Oct 14

Four years ago, Manny Ramirez sought a six-year contract

Just to put the Yankees’ hand-wringing over Alex Rodriguez in perspective, imagine if the Dodgers’ contract with Manny Ramirez still had two years to run.

Jon Heyman, SI.com, October 15, 2008:

There are some early signs that the Dodgers’ negotiations involving Manny Ramirez, who almost single-handedly lifted the storied franchise to the postseason, will not necessarily go smoothly. Ramirez is believed to be seeking a six-year deal for as much as $25 million per year, and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is said to be skeptical that the competition will be keen for the controversial but ultra-productive superstar he acquired for virtually nothing a minute before the trade deadline.

Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, declined to name a target price in an interview with SI.com on Wednesday. That $150 million total price tag is an estimate based on Boras’ use of the word “iconic” to describe the 36-year-old Ramirez, combined with Ramirez’s own constant mention of a “six-year deal” during frequent media interviews this postseason. Another factor is the reminders from those close to Manny that the 10-year deal Alex Rodriguez signed last year calls for him to be paid his regular $30 million salary from ages 38-42.

Ramirez apparently isn’t kidding with his occasional hints about a six-year deal. If that sounds like a stretch, the Dodgers will have to consider the alternative, which is to present a Manny-less team the year after the hitting savant saved them in the regular season, then carried them in October.

“He pays for himself. You’ve got a free player with Manny,” Boras said. “He’s an iconic player who’s changed the face and fortunes of the franchise.” …

Joel Sherman, New York Post, October 15, 2008

… In other words, Boras is not offering apologies or discounts related to the unprofessional way in which Ramirez forced his way out of Boston. In true no-retreat, no-surrender Boras style, he is strongly hinting that he wants a six-year contract for Ramirez at top-of-the-market dollars.

“All I will tell you is, name me the player in recent times that has had the kind of season [Ramirez] has had this season and postseason,” Boras said yesterday during a conversation that lasted more than an hour.

“Put that together with two [championship] rings on his fingers, and the history he has, and that he is two years younger than Bonds when [Bonds] was a free agent. Bonds signed a five-year contract [for $90 million after the 2001 season] at 38 [he turned 38 midway through the first year of the deal] and got paid until he was 42.

“If Bonds gets five years at 38, what does Manny get at 36? If A-Rod gets paid to 42 [on his 10-year deal with the Yankees], why not Manny? He doesn’t take a backseat to him.” …

Feb 20

President’s Night links


Because the night belongs to links …
Because the night belongs to us …

  • ESPNLosAngeles.com’s new Dodger blog, Dodger Report, has launched with the great Tony Jackson at the helm. Here’s his introductory post.
  • Here’s video of Vin Scully at Spring Training 1988, supplied by Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: a nice salute to photographer Herb Scharfman.
  • Recently in Jon SooHoo: Darren Dreifort 1998 pretends to be Mike Scioscia 1988.
  • Yep, Manny Ramirez and the A’s have agreed to that minor-league deal, for whom he’ll be eligible to play after serving out a 50-game suspension. Here’s reaction and analysis from David Schoenfield of ESPN.com and Eno Sarris of Fangraphs.
  • Ned Colletti would like to sign Andre Ethier to a long-term contract, he told Fox in this video interview embedded by Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Now.
  • Steve Yeager has taken the role of special-assignment catching instructor, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Kansas City reliever Jonathan Broxton (yep, that looks funny) seems confident enough about the 2012 season, in this Associated Press story.
  • As expected, Blake DeWitt has remained in the Cub organization, notes MLB Trade Rumors.
  • DodgerFan.net has a roundup of stories on several other new ex-Dodgers, such as Rafael Furcal.
  • Dodger minor leaguer Blake Smith was interviewed by Dustin Nosler of Feelin’ Kinda Blue.
  • Former Dodger manager Jim Tracy has received, unexpectedly in my mind, an “indefinite” contract extension from Colorado.
  • The LFP found a great picture of Frank Howard, Gil Hodges and Gil Hodges Jr. from 1961.
  • Keith Olbermann explores a mystery about 1964 Mickey Mantle baseball cards at Baseball Nerd.
  • Robert Lipsyte penned a first-person remembrance for the New York Times on the Mets’ first Spring Training, 50 years ago.
  • Such sad news: Fox sportscaster Chris Myers’ 19-year-old son died in a car crash last week (via FishbowlLA). Please keep their family and friends in your thoughts.
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.)
Jan 09

Wrapping up Hall of Fame Day

Barry Larkin deservedly rode a relative landslide into the Hall of Fame today (overcoming a reported catastrophe). The highest-polling Dodger alum was Fred McGriff with 137 votes (23.9 percent of total ballots). Others with Dodger ties were Don Mattingly (102 votes/17.8 percent), Bill Mueller (4 votes, 0.7 percent) and Eric Young (1 vote, 0.2 percent). Jeromy Burnitz, Brian Jordan and Terry Mulholland came up empty.

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk has a nice analysis of the ballot results and what they mean for candidates down the road, and David Schoenfield and Cliff Corcoran do similar work for ESPN.com and SI.com, while Dave Cameron of Fangraphs argues for a more inclusive vote.

* * *

Any future Hall of Famers, Dodgers, or Dodger Hall of Famers on this list? Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors looks at the potential big-name free agents a year from now. More here.

* * *

Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is journaling his climb of Mount Kilimanjaro for the New York Times (link via Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation). It begins thusly …

I think I know now how Bilbo Baggins must have felt in Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” My companions and I have set out on our own mountainous journey to try to attain a treasure.

The treasure in our case is not a pile of gold guarded by a dragon, but rather the gratification that comes with reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Instead of facing trolls and fighting goblins, we are battling steep climbs and the fatigue that accompanies seven- to eight-hour hikes. Furthermore, I’m not sure of the height of the Lonely Mountain, but I’m pretty sure I don’t remember reading about Bilbo’s having to worry about acclimatization and altitude sickness as he ascended the mountainside. …

* * *

Which teams should be interested in Manny Ramirez’s comeback efforts? Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs explores, and concludes as follows:

… Four teams, then, seem like they might be able to use Manny: the Rangers, the Twins, the Jays, and the Rays. Even then, each team would have to move things around to make it work, and only the Jays have been reported to express interest so far (as far as I know). This is all to say that while the chances for Manny landing a job seem slim, with a bit of work one can drum up some possibilities. Given the right circumstances, things could work out well for a team willing to take a low-risk chance on Manny.

I won’t be holding my breath.

Dec 04

Manny happy returns?

Wrapping up the last week and starting a new one chock full of bullet points …

  • Manny Ramirez is moving forward with plans to get himself back in the majors for 2012, but would probably to need to still serve 50 games as a suspended player, writes Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine. Ramirez, who turns 40 on May 30, went 1 for 17 with the Rays in 2011 before his season abruptly ended. He could show what shape he’s in with a nonroster invite to some team’s Spring Training.
  • The Dodgers are taking applicants to fill the position of vice president of public relations (link via AZ Snakepit). The Dodgers aren’t holding off until the ownership switch to make the hire: Public relations wait for no one.
  • Clayton Kershaw was interviewed by Molly Knight for ESPN the Magazine.
  • Baseball America’s annual Dodger prospects top 10 has Zach Lee on top, followed by Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and then the first position player, outfielder Alfredo Silverio. Looking at the article, you know what cracks me up? The fifth-highest amateur signing bonus in Dodger history still belongs to 2000 draftee Ben Diggins.
  • I think it’s worth a reminder that Lee could be in the majors before the 2012 season is over, though it probably wouldn’t be until 2013 that he begins making any kind of impact. He’s about a half-season behind the development of Kershaw, whose debut came in May 2008, 23 months after the Dodgers signed him. Lee, who had a 3.47 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.22 WHIP in 2011 for Single-A Great Lakes, should hit Double-A in 2012 at age 20, the same age Kershaw was (though he’s not at the same performance level as Kershaw, who had 12.4 K/9 with Great Lakes).
  • When the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine to manage, I joked on Twitter that his ESPN broadcast partners Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman could join him on the coaching staff. Well, in the case of Hershiser, the Red Sox are in fact interested in him as a pitching coach, writes Sean McAdam of Red Sox Talk – assuming Hershiser’s pursuit of Doger ownership doesn’t get in the way.
  • Some vintage Tommy Lasorda cursing is available in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Ross Newhan calls the theory a “longshot,” but he explains the substance behind why some think Frank McCourt could renege on his commitment to sell the Dodgers.
  • More Newhan, on Magic Johnson’s entrance into the Dodger ownership race:

    … In announcing his intention to bid for the Dodgers with usual flair and enthusiasm, Johnson said he would try to build the Dodgers in the Showtime mold of his star-driven Laker teams, recruiting prominent players and paying the price for free agents.

    This is an area that Kasten and others may want to advise Johnson that it would be better to low key. Many of the 29 other owners who will eventually vote on the McCourt successor may not be happy to hear that Magic intends to pay any cost to restore Dodger prominence, driving up salaries in the process. …

  • Two views of the Dodgers’ Chris Capuano signing: Eric Seidman of Fangraphs doesn’t hate it, while Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com thinks it pretty grim.
  • DodgerTalk alum Ken Levine said he will do more Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts next year.
  • Russell Martin is expected to return to the Yankees in 2012, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Ken Arneson has an interesting piece on why the opening of a Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek is meaningful to the rest of the baseball world.
Jul 06

Latest loss leaves one longing for 2009


Two years ago tonight, the Dodgers were 52-30, seven games better than any other team in the National League, three games better than any team in the majors.

Manny Ramirez, nowadays the subject of much ridicule (renewed by his recent appearance in the Dodgers’ bankruptcy filing), had just come off the suspended list – and, contrary to what people might have expected or might remember, was about to begin a massive hot streak. Over the next two weeks, Ramirez would go 15 for 41 with seven extra-base hits and six walks, for a .458 on-base percentage and .707 slugging percentage.

On July 21, Ramirez was hit by a pitch on the left hand. That injury forced him to the bench the following night, the night the Dodgers were giving away Manny Ramirez bobbleheads.  He came on to pinch-hit in the bottom of the sixth inning with the bases loaded and … Bobbleslam.

The Dodgers were 61-34.

The contrast between then and now is so sharp. The idea of a losing Dodger team is no longer alien, the fact that the team’s losing streak grew to five games with tonight’s 5-3 loss to the Mets is no surprise. These Dodgers are 37-51, all but reversing the performance of their 2009 counterparts. Then – Manny’s curtain call. Now – scrub’s scrub Eugenio Velez tagged out, not even halfway to first base, on a grounder to end the game.

Every single game this week, a Dodger starting pitcher has pitched well heading into the sixth inning, before faltering without rescue. Every single game, you might have cynically felt the inevitability of defeat, yet if you’re anything like me, not quite believed that the result could be so predetermined every single time. In fact, after Hiroki Kuroda let a 1-1 tie become a 4-1 deficit in the top of the sixth, the Dodgers came back to score two runs in the bottom of the inning. They had scored three runs, their highest total since Friday.  And there were still three innings to go.

But we are a long, long way from 2009.

Chris Pizzello/APJoe Torre waits as Manny Ramirez, with an OPS of 1.129 at the time, has his hand examined after being hit by a pitch on July 21, 2009.

The 1988 season has been our touchstone, and will continue to be for some time, maybe for our entire lifetimes. But it’s clear to me that 2009 is an underappreciated season. The offense was solid at every position, with the weakest link being Russell Martin, who still managed a .352 on-base percentage at catcher. Juan Pierre split the Dodger community in two, but even if you thought he was overrated as the team’s spiritual MVP, he was useful and sometimes heroic. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp were blossoming. James Loney was still promising. Casey Blake was one of the better third basemen in the NL. Rafael Furcal managed to stay healthy for 150 games. Cycle-hitter Orlando Hudson sparkled until he was overtaken by the red-hot Ronnie Belliard. Other than handwringing over Ramirez’s suspension, there was little more to gripe over than Kemp batting eighth nearly a couple dozen times.

The starting rotation wasn’t spectacular, but it was capable, with 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw posting a 2.79 ERA and Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla providing late season assistance after Chad Billingsley hit a rough spot. Jonathan Broxton, Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario, none older than 26, led a dominant bullpen that went into overdrive when midseason pickup George Sherrill allowed only two earned runs in 27 2/3 innings.

It is Broxton, of course, who is considered the poison in this tale. He began the 2009 playoffs with five consecutive games of doing his job. In the sixth, Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS, he brought on infamy. And it’s understandable that fans today might be even more bitter toward the reliever, who spoiled a great team’s chance to even up the NLCS at 2-2 and catapult toward that long-awaited World Series title.

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJuan Uribe and Eugenio Velez, two of your 2011 Dodgers, look for some cheer before the game.

But whether you credit Broxton, who in the regular season had 36 saves in 42 opportunities and 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, for helping the Dodgers get in position to win a championship, or whether you hold him accountable for the failure to achieve the dream, it’s remarkable to think of where the Dodgers and their fans were two years ago. Out of our minds with elation at the rebounding hero Ramirez. Somersaulting over the Game 2 NLDS bottom-of-the-ninth comeback win over St. Louis. On seats’ edge as Broxton threw that 1-1 pitch to Jimmy Rollins, one out away from the latest, biggest victory.

I am someone who asks what might have been. There isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t question decisions I made a decade or two ago. I’ve made mistakes as bad as the fastball Broxton threw to Rollins and wondered “what if?” But I can’t look back at 2009 now without instinctively feeling good about it, recalling so many wonderful times. And thinking that even with its short-circuited ending, how gladly would I take it back. And thinking how far away it seems.

Apr 08

Manny Ramirez retires


Kim Klement/US PresswireManny Ramirez

Story developing:

Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Manny Ramirez is retiring.

Major League Baseball announced the move in a statement on Friday.

“Major League Baseball recently notified Manny Ramirez of an issue under Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” the statement said. “Rather than continue with the process under the Program, Ramirez has informed MLB that he is retiring as an active player. If Ramirez seeks reinstatement in the future, the process under the Drug Program will be completed. MLB will not have any further comment on this matter.”

Ramirez, who has 555 career home runs, had one hit in 17 plate appearances with Tampa Bay this season.

Mar 22

Reading is fundamental

Sorry I haven’t done any Spring Training game wraps the past two days. I took Sunday off for my son’s birthday, and then just felt I had nothing much to say after Monday’s rainout/shutout doubleheader.

Anyway, please check out Tony Jackson’s ESPNLosAngeles.com piece from Monday for a recap of the day, which begins with a short feature on left fielder Marcus Thames.

Or, read the best story of the past 24 hours: Barry Svrluga’s tender feature in the Washington Post on Chad Cordero, the pitcher trying to make a comeback after losing his daughter to SIDS.

Or read Jayson Stark’s nuanced feature for ESPN.com on Rays manager Joe Maddon’s optimistic but uncertain relationship with new designated hitter Manny Ramirez.

Or check out Baseball Prospectus’ online chat with Paul DePodesta.

Or stop by Bob Timmermann’s latest piece for Native Intelligence, on the NCAA tournament.

Or enjoy Marcia C. Smith’s appreciation in the Register of Bobby Grich’s efforts to celebrate Angels history as president of the team’s alumni association, inspired by an experience he had as a child:

… Grich was an 8-year-old, sandy-haired boy from Long Beach, taking in his first baseball game with his father at Wrigley Field the year before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. All he wanted was an up-close look at “my hero,” Steve Bilko, a slugging first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels of the competitive, Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

“When the game was over, I ran down to the dugout,” said Grich, his voice rising like a kite catching wind. “All the other kids were around him and I was in the back.”

So he tore an empty popcorn box into a long strip, stuck a stubby pencil at its end, stretched it over the crowd and into the strike zone of Bilko and screamed, “Steve Bilko, please sign my autograph!”

“He saw how adamant I was,” Grich recalled. “In pencil, he autographed “Steve Bilko” on this little piece of cardboard box. I was so thrilled and so excited that I grabbed it and ran all the way up the aisle, waving to my father, shouting, ‘I got Steve Bilko’s autograph! I got Steve Bilko’s autograph!’”

Grich went home, taped the autograph into his scrapbook on a page with the game’s ticket stub and the box score he clipped for the next morning’s newspaper. Now, 54 years later, he still keeps that souvenir.

“So when I got to the big leagues, any time a kid asks me for an autograph, it’s a rare that I turn down an autograph because of what a thrill it was for me to get his autograph,” said Grich, who was in uniform Sunday as a spring training guest instructor and signed autographs for 30 minutes before the game. …

* * *

Cubs at Dodgers, 1:05 p.m.

Feb 17

Today’s Dodger Facebook status updates

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

Friend this …

Jan 21

Should Dodger fans be jealous of the Vernon Wells trade?

In a world where money doesn’t matter, newest Angel outfielder Vernon Wells is better than anyone the Dodgers will have playing alongside Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in April.

But even in a world where money doesn’t matter, volunteering to pay $86 million to Wells for his four years from age 32 through age 35 is a staggering amount, considering that even after slugging 31 homers in 2010, Wells only has a .321 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage over the past four years from ages 28-31. Both that OBP and slugging are less than what Kemp – labeled by some an underachiever – has produced over his past four years (.339/.474) while playing in a pitchers park, and Kemp’s best four years might still be ahead of him.

And since we live in a world where money does matter – where even under selfless ownership, salaries of more than $20 million per year matter – the idea of taking on Wells’ contract is frightening. Count me among the surprised that the Angels will shoulder it.

Unless it’s the difference between winning and losing a title, or unless we’ve been terribly misinformed about Toronto shouldering more of the burden of Wells’ contract, the level of improvement that Wells’ provides over the status quo is not worth the amount he’s being paid (both before or after you factor in sending off players like Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera and their combined $11 million salary for 2011). Do you think he’s the difference-maker for the Angels or would be for the Dodgers? It’s a roll of the dice to say the least.

“Vernon Wells isn’t a terrible player– he’s a solid player with a terrible contract,” Keith Law of ESPN.com aptly says, before adding “he is absolutely the wrong player right now for the Los Angeles Angels, who have made one the worst desperation moves I can remember.” Law offers the following explanation:

The problem is that Wells is now well below-average in center and probably should be in a corner outfield position, where his bat is less valuable, and where he may not profile offensively by the time he’s a free agent after 2014. His power spike in 2010 coincided with a sudden shift in the Rogers Centre’s park factor and a teamwide rise in home runs. He’s a good fastball hitter who’s not very disciplined and tries to pull the ball on the outer half, resulting in a lot of frustrating rollovers to the shortstop.

The Angels have Peter Bourjos and his 70 (or better) glove to man center, and there’s no way Wells will be worth $18 million more than Bourjos this year. Turning Bobby Abreu, a once-great player now showing his age, into a platoon bat/pinch-hitter would make the best of a bad situation. It’s still a bad situation, though, and doesn’t make the Angels much better off even in 2011.

Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com is more sanguine, only by comparison: “You can make plenty of arguments in favor of Friday’s move, but it certainly had the air of desperation.”

We know the Dodgers are desperate for a left fielder, but I’m glad they’re not (or can’t be) this desperate.

(Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez appears headed to Tampa Bay on a simple one-year, $2 million contract.)

Dec 23

The 33 theses revisited

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sep 02

The 2010 Dodgers and the reinvention of lying

White lies, little and giant, have always been part of baseball — even the creation of the game is rooted in myth. But I can’t remember a year since I’ve been following the Dodgers that seems as defined by misinformation as 2010.

The tone was set last fall by Frank and Jamie McCourt as they prepared to do battle for ownership of the franchise, with the he said/she said battle positions flowering during numerous public revelations this year, leaving us with the bouquet of stinkweed at the trial that began this week. I’m not saying that someone’s been trying to pull a lot of wool over someone’s eyes, but lambs across the country are shivering in 90-degree heat.

It hasn’t only been the McCourts. Matt Kemp is held out of the starting lineup for days at a time, and the explanations richochet like bumper cars. He’s tired, he needs to get his head together, he’s in a battle with a coach, he needs to go talk to Joe Torre, Joe Torre needs to talk to him.

Manny Ramirez is finally ready to play after a painfully long absence, and yet he’s not playing. It’s matchups against the pitcher, it’s the square footage of the opposing outfield, it’s Torre playing a hunch, it’s to protect Ramirez for his waiver sendoff to the American League, it’s Ramirez’s own pigheadedness.

And then there are the media columnists who will bend and even break the truth to suit the stories they are determined to write, heedless of the facts.

This all comes on top of the game’s typical lies, such as a player hiding an injury (often to the detriment of the team), that are so familiar and yet so tedious.

It has bred a cynicism so rampant in many of us that even when a Dodger executive of unimpugned integrity like Logan White said in June with complete honesty that he drafted Zach Lee with the full intention of trying to sign him, few believed him – and most of the few who did simply believed he was lying to himself.

Baseball in general, and the Dodgers in particular, don’t necessarily owe us the truth, and I understand little white lies will always be part of the game. Baseball is a business, a culture and a family, and in all three fib to protect themselves. But this year, the cumulative effect of the lying has had a punishing effect. Last week, when Ramirez missed his final four chances to start after reaching base in his final four plate appearances as a starter, I rolled my eyes so much that they bowled a 270. It would be a bit much to pull the “have you no decency” card, but surely there doesn’t need to be such contempt for the truth to operate a baseball team in Los Angeles.

The grievances of Dodger fans are many, perhaps too many and perhaps sometimes too petty. But the feeling is almost unshakable that the Dodger organization has gone too far in insulting the intelligence of the fans. If our expectations are sometimes too high, that doesn’t mean the Dodger players, coaches, manager, executives and ownership don’t need to aim higher. In the end, winning is all that matters, but integrity goes a long way toward soothing the spirit when you’re losing.

Let’s put it this way: If you as an organization choose to espouse the heart and hustle and grit and gristle of players like Scott Podsednik and Jamey Carroll, then maybe you need to apply those values to your own, you know, values. Character in a baseball team is defined by more than how fast you run down the line. You’re telling me character matters, yet you’re not acting like it.

Aug 29

Waking up from Manny

Ignominious.

Reduced to being a bit player on a team once again fading, perhaps Manny Ramirez made some say “good riddance” with his one-pitch ejection in his Dodger farewell.

For me, the engorged lockdown of Ramirez during the brief and final window the Dodgers had left with him (and perhaps in the playoff race) couldn’t have been more disappointing. 

No final redemption. Thirteen months ago, Ramirez emerged from salty circumstances to hit a pinch-hit grand slam. Today, no remnants of glory to be found.

A memorable chapter closed with Ramirez’s sendoff to the Chicago White Sox, but the ending didn’t exactly make for great television. Next time, let’s have Ramirez wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette or something.

Monday brings a stomach-churner of a divorce trial to determine team ownership.

Ignominious.

I don’t know when, but we will see better days.