Feb 27

The defensive potential of Mark Ellis

If the Dodgers replaced baseball’s 27th-best second baseman offensively with the ninth-best, a lot of us would be doing cartwheels. At least three cartwheels, maybe seven.

By that token, maybe we should be doing at least two cartwheels – and as many as 11 – over the fact that, according to David Pinto of Baseball Musings, the Dodgers are replacing baseball’s 27th-best second baseman defensively with the ninth best. He’s in the decline phase of his career, but Mark Ellis should still be a considerable improvement over Jamey Carroll (the aforementioned No. 27), and Aaron Miles, who combined to take 75 percent of the Dodgers’ innings at second base last year.

Wrote Ken Arneson, who has watched Ellis play with Oakland, on Twitter: “Good to make note of the numbers, because Ellis’s defense is as invisible as a mistake-free umpire.”

Elsewhere …

  • © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

    Today in Jon SooHoo: Dee Gordon is off to the races.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times chronicles the maturation of Matt Kemp.
  • Former Dodger reliever Danys Baez is retiring, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (via MLB Trade Rumors). From 2006, the year the Dodgers acquired him and Lance Carter from Tampa Bay for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany, Baez had a 5.16 ERA (85 ERA+) in 265 1/3 innings with 154 strikeouts and 396 baserunners allowed. And one balk. Jackson in that time has pitched 1,003 2/3 innings with a 4.38 ERA (99 ERA+), 753 strikeouts and 1,495 baserunners allowed. And five balks.
  • Here’s an interesting story from my Variety colleague Stuart Levine about how the move of “Downton Abbey” and “Luther” from the Emmy miniseries to the Emmy drama category could presage the Emmys nominating 10 programs for top drama in 2013.
  • Meanwhile, I bid farewell to the Oscars with a Variety On the Air blog post calling for Academy to understand, once and for all, that they’re making a TV show, rather than filming a stage show. And that starts with the selection of their next host.
Feb 24

Focus on Stan Conte

Dodger senior director of medical services Stan Conte is obviously a key cog in the franchise machine. Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine has the most insightful piece you’ll probably ever see on his approach, his limitations and his perhaps quixotic goals. (And yes, Jason Schmidt is addressed, though not explained …)

* * *

Howard Cole of the Register’s Dodgers Blog doesn’t want Matt Kemp or his fans to get too wrapped up in all this 50-50 talk.

Feb 22

Kershaw’s back jacked

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw proved last year he’s not one to back away from a challenge from Giants ace Tim Linecum. Perhaps that’s why Kershaw saw Lincecum’s stiff back from Tuesday  and countered with a stiff back of his own.

Neither condition is considered serious. Both pitchers skipped their scheduled bullpen sessions as a precaution.

* * *

  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports writes about Matt Kemp’s quest for a 50-50 season.
  • Jon Garland’s minor-league deal with Cleveland fell apart over his physical. Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk has a bit more.
  • Evan Bladh tells a story at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance about his childhood friendship, including playing Strat-o-Matic, with Clippers announcer Michael Smith.
  • I actually have had the desire at times to bring more sabermetrics into my entertainment reporting, as Noel Murray of the Onion’s A.V. Club suggests.
  • Steven Spielberg’s career as a high-school sportswriter gets a lively treatment from Bryan Curtis at Grantland.
  • My Match Game contest-offering sister Robyn uses one of her latest to blog about popular 1970s California potato chips at Bird Is the Word.
Feb 21

Top o’ the lineup to ya

While I might do unconventional things with batting orders to try to maximize offense, I’m not someone who gets worked up a whole lot about them. With some batting order discussion taking place on the first day of Spring Training for the Dodgers, I’ll offer my two cents, and then probably leave the subject alone.

Projected Dodger
Opening Day
batting order

L Dee Gordon, SS
R Mark Ellis, 2B
R Matt Kemp, CF
L Andre Ethier, RF
R Juan Rivera, LF
L James Loney, 1B
R Juan Uribe, 3B
R A.J. Ellis, C
L Clayton Kershaw, P

Alternative Dodger
Opening Day
batting order

L Dee Gordon, SS
R A.J. Ellis, C
L Andre Ethier, RF
R Matt Kemp, CF
L James Loney, 1B
R Juan Rivera, LF
R Juan Uribe, 3B
L Clayton Kershaw, P
R Mark Ellis, 2B

We start off with Tuesday’s news that Dodger manager Don Mattingly said Dee Gordon would be his leadoff hitter and Matt Kemp would bat third, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

“Mattingly said (Andre) Ethier would likely hit cleanup against right-handed pitchers and that Juan Rivera could hit cleanup against lefties,” Stephen adds. “Mattingly said Mark Ellis will get the first shot at batting second, though Mattingly wouldn’t mind James Loney or even (Jerry) Sands hitting in the second spot in the lineup.”

Gordon is a dubious choice to lead off because of his on-base deficiencies, but I’m going to ignore that for the time being because he’s still too enticing to think about as a sparkplug – cliched or not – and the Dodgers aren’t exactly chock full of OBP-skilled alternatives.

More interesting to me is the choice for the No. 2 slot. I can see the arguments for Mark Ellis, Loney or Sands, but I’m not sure they’re any better than the arguments for A.J. Ellis.

The Dodger starting catcher’s on-base percentages for his past two seasons in the majors are .363 and .392. Sure, that might not hold up over extended playing time, but I’d at least be interested in testing it out. A No. 2 hitter who walks about as much as he strikes out seems right to me for this team (assuming the Dodgers aren’t willing to recall the age of Paul Lo Duca and bat their catcher leadoff).

You’d have to get over A.J.’s lack of speed coming right in front of Kemp, but it’s not as if anyone but Gordon should really be trying to steal with Kemp at the plate anyway.

Loney has always seemed made like a good No. 2 hitter to me, but the problem is that using him there would stack two of the Dodgers’ three left-handed regulars together, which is not what I want to see, especially late in a game.

I’m gathering that A.J. Ellis won’t see a first-inning at-bat much this year, but certainly, batting him eighth, behind a guy like Juan Uribe, seems like a mistake. But, wherever they’re hitting, these guys are going to have to produce.

Other notes before night turns into later that night …

  • The efforts of Kemp and Tony Gwynn Jr. to help lure Prince Fielder to the Dodgers are detailed by Dylan Hernandez of the Times and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. From Hernandez:

    … Kemp said he actively recruited Prince Fielder over the winter and was convinced he would be in the same lineup as the former home-run champion in the upcoming season.

    “I was getting real confident in our chances of getting him,” Kemp said.

    Kemp said he spoke to Fielder several times.

    “I knew we were getting pretty close,” he said. “I didn’t know Detroit was in.” …

  • Comeback Player of the Year ballot candidate Ronald Belisario reported to Spring Training on time for the first time as a Dodger, notes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Zach Lee is the Dodgers’ top-ranked prospect by Baseball America at No. 62, followed by Allen Webster at No. 95 and Nathan Eovaldi at 96.
  • Ted Lilly became a father to his second child, Nora Grace, and was therefore excused from reporting to Camelback Ranch today, according to Hernandez. Congrats to the Lillys.
  • You’ve probably already seen this, but really did enjoy this Deadspin piece by Erik Malinowski on the making of The Simpsons‘ “Homer at the Bat.”
  • Potential Dodger owner Magic Johnson has another big enterprise on his mind – the founding of a new cable network, Aspire. Details from Jill Goldsmith at Variety.
  • Mike Axisa of Fangraphs made an argument that catching scarcity meant the Yankees should offer Russell Martin a three-year, $30 million contract. Others will disagree.
  • There are some minor rules changes in Major League Baseball this year, including what may become known as the Sam Fuld Rule, reports The Associated Press. (via Baseball Musings).
  • Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos talked to AP today about the aftermath of his kidnapping. “I feel like I’m living again,” Ramos said.
  • If you’re interested, I posted a bunch of TV thoughts today at Variety On the Air.
  • According to Jackson, Kemp’s reaction to the possibility that the Dodgers will sell for upwards of $2 billion: “Who’s got that kind of money? I thought I was rich.”
Jan 25

Wow, where did all these links come from?

A bundle of clickable goodness today …

  • Andre Ethier had some interesting comments in an interview Tuesday with ESPN AM 710.

    … Asked about wanting to be with the Dodgers long-term, Ethier said, “It comes down to the security part, too, but it also comes down to unfinished business and I feel like, yeah, I’m facing that decision now where hopefully it doesn’t come down to me having to leave and [I can] be a part of this team when we start rebounding and getting back to where we need to be.”The ownership limbo seemingly affected the Dodgers’ ability to deal in free agency this offseason, with general manager Ned Colletti saying earlier this month the team was essentially done with its offseason acquisitions because “we’re at our payroll.” So when news broke Tuesday of the Detroit Tigers nearing a deal with marquee free agent Prince Fielder, it wasn’t lost on Ethier.

    “Why can’t the Dodgers be doing that? Look at the markets those two teams are, and the stability you see through the front office and the team being able to operate … on the level it should be,” he said, adding, “you don’t try to think of it too much as a player, but obviously if you’re not going after the big fish like other teams are, like our partners are down there to the south of us, the Angels [who acquired Albert Pujols], it’s tough to go out there and keep competing year after year if you’re not going out there and making your team better every year. “I think that’s the situation we’ve been in. Obviously it’s going to get better from here on out because of the sell and getting new people in there.”

    Ethier, who hit .292 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs in 2011 before ending the season with a right knee injury, said he’s aiming for a “strong, solid” 2012.

    “I’ve kind of dealt with this knee thing for the past two years, put it off for one off-season and then last season it just became a thing where a lot of things started multiplying and getting worse and something where I couldn’t quite get back my swing … It was very frustrating and I learned a lot from that.”

  • Ethier participated in a prank on Dustin Pedroia for a Boston radio station. Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy has more.
  • Matt Kemp’s new contract looks even more valuable in the wake of the Prince Fielder signing, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports offers up a wintertime preview of their 19th-ranked MLB team, the 2012 Dodgers.
  • Former Dodger co-owner and managing partner Bob Daly had even more to say Tuesday (in an interview with T.J. Simers of the Times) than Ethier. Daly is highly critical of Frank McCourt, critical of the Dodgers’ offseason signings and critical of himself for not trading prospects for a bat in the middle of the 2002 season — though I would say that was a period in which the Dodgers didn’t have a whole lot of trade value in the system.
  • Steve Dilbeck of the Times wonders if the potential interest of St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke in buying the Dodgers could be the first domino that leads to Frank McCourt becoming an NFL minority owner.
  • In a separate post, Dilbeck also offers why the Dodgers might win the National League West, despite all their uncertainty.
  • Just when I think I can’t read any more Hall of Fame voting insight, here comes Lewie Pollis of Behind the Boxscore with a new take, about what he calls “a mistaken assumption about the balloting process: that writers’ own observations of players were expected to be primary factors in their votes.”
  • Daryle Ward, who infamously batted .183 and slugged .193 at age 28 for the 2003 Dodgers, received a 50-game suspension from MLB for testing positive for a banned amphetamine. Ward, who has a .768 lifetime OPS, hasn’t played in the majors since 2008.
  • Former Dodger infielder Wilson Valdez, who ended up the winning pitcher for the Phillies over the Reds in a 19-inning game last May, was traded to the Reds today.
  • There’s speculation about whether Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns 4.5 percent of the Lakers, will get involved with a Dodger ownership bid, such as Magic Johnson’s. Bill Shaikin of the Times addresses it today. Soon-Shiong bought Johnson’s share of the Lakers in 2010. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com interviewed Soon-Shiong in November.
  • The Left Field Pavilion blog has invited all prospective Dodger owners to come out to the Dodger blogs softball tournament February 11 and “meet the bloggers and fans of the team you are trying to purchase.”
  • Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, 26, is about to become a free agent that MLB teams can bid on. More on Cespedes at Baseball America. The Dodgers are not rumored to be pursuing him. “Projections based off his Cuban numbers show a good but not great hitter with 25-homer power and poor strike-zone control,” writes Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk.
  • Sam Miller of the Orange County Register is quickly emerging as a baseball writer of the highest order. He has two new freelance pieces: an account of Scott Boras’ beginnings as an agent for Baseball Prospectus, and a pitch-by-pitch account of how the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for ESPN the Magazine.
  • Kevin Kaduk at Yahoo! Sports blogs about a law in Florida “that any ballpark or stadium that receives taxpayer money shall serve as a homeless shelter on the dates that it is not in use.”
Nov 21

Looking back on Matt Kemp’s MVP chase

I began my National League Most Valuable Player watch on Matt Kemp in August, and along with the NL Cy Young scope for Clayton Kershaw, it became the primary Dodger story over the season’s final two months. That means a ton of words were spilled on the subject, and I’m reluctant, at this point, to spill any more (though for some fresh Kemp content, check out this ESPN.com roundtable on Kemp’s future in which I took part).

Looking back, these are the four primary pieces, a combination of comparing Kemp to his closest rivals (which in the end boiled down to Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun) as well as arguing emphatically that the voting rules do not call for the MVP to come from a pennant-winner.

August 15: Matt Kemp really can win the MVP award, but will he?

September 24: The myth and reality of ‘valuable’

October 1: So when exactly were the Dodgers out of contention?

October 14: Remembering 2011: Matt Kemp

Once more, with feeling:

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2. Number of games played.

3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4. Former winners are eligible.

5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

Baseball Writers Association of America official site

Nov 18

It’s officially the Age of Kemp


Damian Dovarganes/APMatt Kemp celebrates his new contract in the Dodgers’ new home uniform.

The breakdown of Matt Kemp’s new Dodger contract, now officially running through 2019, comes from Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com and The Associated Press.

It’s not exactly $20 million each year, but the difference in future years doesn’t figure to be significant, unless you’re the kind of guy or gal who frets over $22 million vs. $20 million.

  • In 2012, Kemp will make $10 million, which includes a $2 million signing bonus due by April but not $2 million that will be deferred for a year.
  • 2013: $22 million, including the $2 million deferred from 2012.
  • 2014: $21 million
  • 2015: $21 million
  • 2016: $21.5 million
  • 2017: $21.5 million
  • 2018: $21.5 million
  • 2019: $21.5 million
Nov 17

Wrapping up a big day with Newk and friends

“As the winner of the first Cy Young Award, I am so very proud of Clayton Kershaw and his outstanding performances that led to his receiving the 2011 Cy Young Award. I am reminded of Sandy Koufax whenever I see Clayton pitch and feel that there is a deep comparison between the two. Clayton has an outstanding work ethic, as did Sandy, which will show itself through Clayton’s baseball career.”

Don Newcombe

  • Cliff Corcoran of SI.com has a well-done piece looking at Clayton Kershaw’s workload and how it could mean he’s in for an early decline – or, conversely, that he’s on a Hall of Fame path. Corcoran concludes by recommending the Dodgers not dally in signing Kershaw to a big contract extension.
  • ESPN.com looks at the adjustments Kershaw made to become a Cy Young winner.

* * *

In case you missed it amid the Cy Young news, baseball has engineered a major realignment. The Houston Astros are moving to the American League West, there will be interleague play throughout the season, and biggest of all, there will be two wild-card teams in each league, who will face off in a one-game playoff. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com examines the changes from all angles, while DodgerTalk co-host Joe Block reacts to the realignment news and potential increase in interleague games by discussing whether NL teams should keep a designated-hitter type on their roster.

* * *

No, Matt Kemp, we haven’t forgotten about you:

  • David Golebiewski of Baseball Analytics has a deep examination of how Kemp is able to maintain a high batting average on balls in play.
  • For a change of pace, here’s Grant Brisbee at Baseball Nation with a history of … Matt Kemp trade rumors!
Nov 16

Kemp will be king, but there will be no Prince

Ned Colletti said Tuesday that it’s “unrealistic” that the Dodgers will sign Prince Fielder. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.

Amid reports such as this from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com that Matt Kemp’s soon-to-be-official eight-year contract will pay him just over $10 million next season, it would appear that the Dodgers are in for one more spring of budget tightening as the ownership transition takes place. The contract for new second baseman Mark Ellis pays $2.5 million in 2012 and $5.25 million in 2013, plus incentives, Jackson reports.

The Dodgers’ main mystery right now is starting pitching, considering that the back end of their rotation is made up of Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland and there’s no guarantee yet that Hiroki Kuroda will return.

  • Though as a Dodger fan you might find it moot, David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com explores how much the Kemp deal will affect Fielder’s next contract.
  • New stats-oriented director of contracts, research and operations Alex Tamin influenced the Ellis signing, general manager Ned Colletti told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Ellis signing gets a mixed review from Chad Moriyama.

    … For the money, Ellis should be a passable option considering the alternatives were not exactly appealing, nor were there strong internal candidates. However, while Ellis should be better going forward than he was in 2011, he still figures to be below the league average threshold, making him a fringy or mediocre starter. Additionally, there’s the real risk that he goes through a collapse in skill before the contract is up. So while the finances might pan out okay, this has to rate as an average deal at best.

  • Here’s a January 2008 ode to Ellis from my former Baseball Toaster compadre Ken Arneson.
  • New Dodger trainer Sue Falsone, interviewed by the Huffington Post, says the song that reminds her most of Los Angeles is “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but we’ll hold out hope for her success here anyway (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy).
  • Former Dodger outfielder Xavier Paul unknowingly got caught up in an Australian Baseball League scam, reports Alexis Brudnicki of Baseball America and Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
  • MLB.com also offered up its choices for top Dodger minor leaguers in 2011 by position. Compare them to the Dodger Thoughts Grain of Salt Midseason Minor-League All-Stars.
  • River Ave. Blues passes along a piece that shows that the value of the batting average statistic was being questioned 96 years ago.
  • In Tuesday’s mail, I received to my surprise (as a Los Angeles-based Hall of Fame non-voter) a 12-page full-color campaign brochure for Juan “Igor” Gonzalez’s Cooperstown candidacy. Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk rebuts the effort.
  • I was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles’ move in the 1990s to an ornithologically correct bird on its caps, in part because of the repeated use by sportswriters of the word “ornithologically.” I also thought it looked cool, so I’m a little disappointed to see them go back to the cartoon bird.
  • For your amusement/slash/horror: Life (the magazine, not the cereal) has chosen its 20 worst ever covers.
Nov 15

Kemp: The Dodgers’ all-time leader in … ?

How high will Matt Kemp rise on the Dodgers’ all-time leaderboards during his eight-year contract?

Home runs
Leader:
Duke Snider, 389
Kemp: 20th with 128, trails by 261, or 32.6 per year

RBI
Leader:
Duke Snider, 1,271
Kemp: 29th with 457, trails by 824, or 103 per year

Hits:
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 2,804
Kemp: 38th with 840, trails by 1,964, or 245.5 per year

Stolen bases:
Leader:
Maury Wills, 490
Kemp: 15th with 144, trails by 346, or 43.3 per year

Runs:
Leader:
Pee Wee Reese, 1,338
Kemp: 31st with 464, trails by 874, or 109.25 per year

Doubles
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 464
Kemp: 37th with 140, trails by 324, or 43 per year

Total bases:
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 4,003
Kemp: 36th with 1,420, trails by 2,583, or 322.9 per year

Strikeouts
Leader:
Duke Snider, 1,123
Kemp: eighth with 740, trails by 383, or 47.9 per year

Plate appearances
Leader: Zack Wheat, 9,720
Kemp: 44th with 3,158, trails by 6,562, or 820.3 per year

Wins above replacement
Leader:
Pee Wee Reese, 66.7
Kemp: 21.7, trails by 45, or 5.6 per year

Power-speed number: 2(HRxSB)/(HR+SB)
Leader:
Willie Davis, 211.0
Kemp: eighth with 135.5, trails by 75.5, or 9.4 per year

Kemp’s looking like the most power-fast swingiest ballplayer in Dodger history to me.

Nov 14

The Kemp contract: Will this be the Dodgers’ decade, after all?

At the end of the indispensable, forever-a-touchstone “Joe vs. the Volcano,” Joe (Tom Hanks) has survived depression, a diagnosis of a brain cloud and being exploded out of a live volcano. Life is suddenly looking good.

Except that Joe is on a liferaft made of steamer trunks, floating in the middle of the ocean at Poseidon’s mercy. He starts to worry again. Patricia (Meg Ryan), his love, can only laugh.

“It’s always going to be something with you, isn’t it Joe?” she remarks.

There will always be something with the Dodgers. There is no frying pan in this town whose escape route doesn’t lead to some flame, be it a campfire or a conflagration.

But the news today that the Dodgers are on the verge of signing Matt Kemp to a contract that locks up his rights until he is 35, in 2019, is Chapter Two in the rebirth of the franchise, following Frank McCourt’s agreement to sell the team this winter. The Dodgers might still be floating at sea, but they are floating in the right direction.

That the lame duck McCourt agreed to sign Kemp is newsworthy, though less surprising to me than others might find it. McCourt, essentially, is spending someone else’s money.  As I wrote about Prince Fielder last month, the argument for committing to a big contract for a superstar is at least as strong as the argument against it — for whatever cost it adds to the bottom line, if it’s a smart signing it only enhances the worth of the franchise. That being said, McCourt could have been a roadblock to the signing but chose not to be. It’s a point in his favor on an eight-year-old scoresheet.

That hasn’t stopped people from at least acknowledging the potential downside of the deal. Anytime you offer the longest and richest deal in National League history, there’s going to be some risk. Some would point to the previous No. 1 deal in Dodger annals, the seven-year, $105 million contract for Kevin Brown, as evidence of this, though I concluded (in a blog post I can’t find right now) that when you combine the value Brown provided with what was received after he was traded to the Yankees, the Dodgers actually made out just fine on the deal.

So let’s look at Kemp’s contract: $160 million over eight years, we’re told.  Some will get hung up over the question of whether Kemp will still be a $20 million player as he heads toward his 35th birthday in September 2019. But that’s the wrong way to eyeball things.

The only question that matters is whether Kemp will provide $160 million worth of value over the life of the contract, and that seems like a pretty safe bet.

Kemp will be 27 years old when the 2012 season begins. There’s an excellent chance he’ll be much more than a $20 million-a-year player next year and for at least few years after that, even if he can’t ever duplicate the marvels of his 2011 campaign.

To consider one evaulation, Fangraphs not only puts his value this year at $39 million, it assesses his 2009 season at $23.5 million. So even with a disappointing season mixed in ($1.6 million of value in 2010), Kemp has averaged $21.3 million in value the past three years — before hitting his prime. And that doesn’t even include one thing you can’t put a price on right now: the comfort of knowing that this signing means the Dodgers are back in business.

In other words, Kemp might earn the entire cost of his contract in the next five or six years — he might be a bargain over that time — and everything after that will be gravy on the cake.  Furthermore, though Kemp will be older at the end of the decade, he won’t exactly be ancient. He’ll be younger, for example, than Manny Ramirez was before Ramirez first wore a Dodger uniform.

Now, if and when Kemp is in decline in 2019, few people may remember to look at his contract the way I’m advising. They’ll compare his 2019 performance with his 2019 salary and come to a 2019 conclusion that he is underperforming. But major league baseball does not pay players strictly according to performance — they are underpaid some years, as Kemp was in 2011, and they will be overpaid in others. All a franchise can do is make the best decision possible regarding the entire life of the contract.

Over the next eight years, I expect to see different sides of Kemp.  I expect to see the all-out, hold-nothing-back player we saw in 2011, but undeniably, the contract is also an invitation to shift into cruise control from time to time — and honestly, who among us wouldn’t respond to that Evite here and there? The Dodgers are signing a human, not a robot. We also, for the first time, will at some point probably see a Kemp that gets hurt.

Contracts like these aren’t about moments, however. They are about the big picture. And with McCourt exiting to the left, and Kemp (and, I expect, Clayton Kershaw) remaining center stage, the big picture looks the rosiest it has for Los Angeles since before that day in October 2009, when the McCourt family business dumped a big ink blot on it. And Kemp himself must realize this. Though 160 million birds in the hand are nothing to be dismissed, it’s safe to say that Kemp might be leaving a few million more birds in the bush.

Yes, the Dodgers are still out to sea, but the wind is back at their back. We might even look back at 2011 to find, believe it or not, that this was the starting point for a Dodger decade.

Nov 14

Kemp is here to stay: Extension to keep star in Dodger outfield through 2019


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMatt Kemp is happy.

Did you feel that earthquake?

An eight-year, $160 million contract is about to be closed between Matt Kemp and the Dodgers, sources indicate, that would give Los Angeles the rights to see him play through the end of the decade. Here’s the breaking news story.

And here’s some supplemental information I prepared Sunday:

The deal is the largest in franchise history, surpassing the seven-year, $105 million contract pitcher Kevin Brown signed with the team as a free agent in December 1998, and effectively matches Manny Ramirez’s deal signed with Boston in 2001 for the seventh-largest contract in total value major-league history. It is the largest contract in ever in the National League, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder blossomed in 2011 to nearly snag the NL triple crown while becoming a leading candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player Award with a .399 on-base percentage, .586 slugging percentage and a league-leading 39 home runs, 126 RBI and 115 runs. He also stole 40 bases and 51 attempts and won his second Gold Glove award in the past three seasons. According to Fangraphs.com, he led the NL with 8.7 wins above replacement.

The signing is by far the biggest the Dodgers have made since the ownership crisis that has gripped the team since October 2009 began with the public disclosure of Jamie and Frank McCourt’s marital separation. Frank McCourt agreed to sell the Dodgers on Nov. 1, but because new ownership isn’t expected to be in place until close to Opening Day at the earliest, there had been speculation that the Dodgers wouldn’t be offer a palatable extension to Kemp this winter. Kemp had indicated he would follow the common practice of not negotiating after the regular season began.

However, Kemp’s agent Dave Stewart and Dodger general manager Ned Colletti told ESPNLosAngeles.com last week that negotiations had been progressing with regard to Kemp, who would have been eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.

Kemp stood to earn in the neighborhood of $15 million in 2012 with his final year of arbitration eligibility. He just completed a two-year contract that paid him $11 million total. By earning such a large commitment, he adds to the financial burdens of whomever the new Dodger owners will be, but gives them a player they can potentially market around for the remainder of the decade.

A year ago at this time, Kemp was the subject of much angst in Los Angeles after a season in which he hit 28 home runs but had fallen to a .310 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage while successfully stealing only 19 bases in 34 attempts (55.8 percent) and suffering through noticeable defensive lapses. Colletti questioned Kemp’s effort and performance in an April 2010 radio interview, and in late June 2010, Kemp was pulled from the lineup for three consecutive starts, though he played in each to keep alive a consecutive-game streak that is now the longest one active in MLB at 365 games.

But Kemp and Colletti had a clear-the-air conversation later that summer, and the outfielder, who also began receiving baserunning tutelage from new coach Davey Lopes before the 2011 season began, impressed the Dodgers from the start of the year, when he singled, walked three times and stole a base in an Opening Day victory over San Francisco, to the finish, when he came within one home run of becoming the franchise’s first 40-40 man.

He hit a walkoff home run April 17 to beat St. Louis and another four days later to topple Atlanta. On June 4, he hit a solo homer and a grand slam in consecutive innings to help rally the Dodgers from a four-run deficit to victory at Cincinnati. Six days after that, when hamstring tightness forced him to miss his only start of 2011, Kemp came off the bench in the ninth inning and launched a home run that bounced through the concourse behind the left-field seats at Coors Field and into the parking lot, sparking a five-run rally that nearly brought Los Angeles back from a 6-0 deficit.

He reached the 20-20 mark in homers and steals in his 75th game June 21 and started his first NL All-Star Game, where he walked, singled and scored a run. He became a 30-30 man in game 130 on August 26, then hit another walkoff home run in the 11th inning, less than 24 hours later. He finished with eight home runs in September for the Dodgers, whom he led to a 45-28 finish after a 37-51 start, and wasn’t eliminated from Triple Crown contention until the season’s final five days.

Other than Chad Billingsley, who in March signed a contract extension through the 2014 season, Kemp is the only homegrown Dodger to remain with the team past free-agent eligibility this century.  Next in line for such honors would be Cy Young Award candidate Clayton Kershaw, though the 23-year-old can’t become a free agent until after the 2014 season.

For comparison, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki last December signed a seven-year, $134 million contract extension that runs through the end of the 2020 season.

Nov 09

Talks for long-term Kemp deal progressing

With no further ado, here’s Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

The agent for Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder and National League Most Valuable Player candidate Matt Kemp said Wednesday that talks on a long-term contract extension for his client are moving in a positive direction and that he is optimistic an agreement will be reached.

Dave Stewart, Kemp’s San Diego-based agent and himself a former Dodgers pitcher, said his discussions with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti have been positive and productive.

“I don’t think that it’s going to be difficult, I really don’t,” Stewart said. “I think we should be able to come to something. I have talked with Ned on a few occasions. We have covered some ground, and hopefully, we will be able to put this thing to bed soon.”

Colletti also characterized the negotiations as moving forward.

“We have had some constructive conversations,” Colletti said. “Those conversations have been a little more substantive of late.”

Colletti cautioned against reading too much into that, saying no agreement was imminent. Clearly, though, signing Kemp to a long-term deal sometime this winter — and before Kemp becomes eligible for free agency after the 2012 season — is a high priority for the Dodgers.

“This is obviously going to be cordial,” Stewart said of the negotiations. “I have known Ned for 30 years, and that is the easy part of it. The tough part is trying to figure out exactly where Matt sits and how I get them to see what I see.” …