Feb 17

Today’s Dodger Facebook status updates

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

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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.

Feb 05

Eric Chavez heads to Yankees

Eric Chavez won’t be the uncertain solution to the Dodgers’ uncertain third-base situation. The oft-injured vet is headed to the New York Yankees on a minor-league deal, as is former Dodger Ronnie Belliard.

* * *

Fairly safe to say that the most scrutinized 2011 Dodger heading into the season will be Matt Kemp.  Here’s more detailed analysis, from True Blue L.A. newbie Chad Moriyama,

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.)

Jan 03

Dodgers sign Tim Redding to minor-league deal

Looks like the world is getting back to work …

  • The Dodgers signed Tim Redding to a minor-league contract. Redding, who will be 33 in February, had a 2.89 ERA in 109 Triple-A innings last year, following a 2009 major-league campaign in which his ERA was 5.10 with 76 strikeouts in 120 innings.
  • Albert Lyu of Fangraphs has a precision look at Matt Kemp’s struggles against fastballs in 2010 compared with the year before. “Kemp’s whiffs against lower-90s fastballs dramatically increased in the past year, nearly doubling that of the average hitter,” Lyu writes.
  • Ronald Belisario won a Venezeulan winter league closer of the year award, notes Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Baly also passes along word of the arrival of Clayton and Ellen Kershaw in Africa.
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness wonders if there is still room to add a second lefty reliever to the 2011 Dodger bullpen, especially because Hong-Chih Kuo can’t be wasted as someone who only faces lefty batters.
  • Alex Belth of Bronx Banter shares a sweaty, tongue-tied New York moment, co-starring Tina Fey.
  • Farewell, Anne Francis and Pete Postlewaite.
Jan 02

Jerry Sands: How close is he?

One in a series of at least one, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Jerry Sands
Vitals: OF/1B, 6-foot-4, 210-225 pounds, turned 23 on September 28.

Summary: From age 22 1/2 to age 23, Sands had a .395 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage with 35 homers in 590 plate appearances combined at Single-A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga. In Double-A, Sands posted a .360/.529 with 17 homers in 303 plate appearances.

For comparison’s sake: From age 22 to age 22 1/2, Andre Ethier delivered a .383/.442 with seven homers in 471 plate appearances, all in Single-A. Then from age 23 to 23 1/2, Ethier offered .385/.497 with 18 homers in 572 plate appearances in Double-A (not counting a 17-plate appearance cup o’ joe at Triple-A). After starting 2006 strongly with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team, Ethier was promoted to the majors three weeks after turning 24.

Sobering: Sands struck out in about a quarter of his at-bats in the minors last year.

For what it’s worth: A younger Matt Kemp arrived in Los Angeles mere months after going .349/.569 in Single-A, and was in the majors for good less than two years after that Single-A year.

Quick and dirty conclusion: Obviously, Sands and Ethier are not the same player. Ethier had a better OBP but less power in the minors, among other differences. Still, I did find the juxtaposition interesting. It seems entirely plausible that Sands could get a quick promotion to Albuquerque in 2011. That would position him to make his big-league debut before the year is out and leave him a serious contender for a starting role in 2012.

Though there is almost zero chance Sands would start 2011 in the majors after only a half-season in Double-A – because Ned Colletti teams give veterans first crack in April – how Sands develops this year, against the background of how the Dodger major-league outfield shapes up, could speed up his timetable. He is also a potential understudy to James Loney.

Did you know? Sands stole 18 bases in 20 attempts in 2010 and is 24 for 27 in his pro career.

Dec 29

Talk about your backloaded deals: How about Cliff Lee?

The full value of this post is deferred until 2013 …

  • Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors took a look at backloaded deals around the majors. Here’s a sample: Cliff Lee’s new deal with the Phillies averages $24 million per year, but he’ll receive only $11 million in 2011.

    In 2015, when Lee is poised to turn 37, he will be guaranteed $25 million. In 2016, when Lee is poised to turn 38, he will be due $27.5 million in salary or receive a $12.5 million buyout just for breathing. And the $27.5 million becomes guaranteed if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings in 2014-15.

    The Phillies are taking a risk on the future in order to increase their chances of winning in the present. Might work, might not. But as Dierkes shows, several teams are going the deferred route. Deferred payments are not inherently mistakes. Whom you are paying is much more important then when you are paying them.
  • At Fangraphs, Jesse Wolfersberger charts the offenses of the National League in terms of how well they got on base and how efficiently they drove those runners in last season.  The Dodgers are in the bad quadrant — below average in both categories.  Though they weren’t far from being in the good quadrant, we know that in terms of on-base percentage, they’ll be moving backward unless some holdovers post some significant improvement.
  • If you really think dating a celebrity was the problem, then how come so many ballplayers who don’t date celebrities suck?
Dec 23

The 33 theses revisited

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

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

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


Denis Poroy/AP
Tony Gwynn Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a Dodger lineup with Gwynn in center:

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

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

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

Dec 07

Dodgers to sign Chris Gwynn’s nephew

Tony Gwynn, Jr., is probably few people’s idea of an answer to the Dodgers’ outfield concerns, but now that the Dodgers are about to sign him, let’s talk about what they will do with him.

In his best year (2009), Gwynn reached the .350 mark in on-base percentage, but other than that and a good year on the basepaths last season (17 steals in 21 attempts), Gwynn has zero — or less than zero — offensive value.

Defensively, Gwynn’s another story, as he was arguably the best center fielder in the National League last season.

So if the Dodgers plan on using Gwynn as more than a fifth outfielder, should they not play him in center field, either moving Matt Kemp to left field or Kemp to right and Andre Ethier to left?

Just as you shouldn’t bat a great offensive player eighth, shouldn’t you avoid minimizing the impact of a fine defensive player?

The Dodgers’ 2011 lineup may be the most OBP-challenged we’ve seen in Los Angeles in some time. If the plan is to win with pitching and defense, while hoping that Kemp, Ethier and others hit a few home runs along the way, the Dodgers should seriously consider using Gwynn in center.

Of course, if the Dodgers want to find more offense for that third outfield slot, fine by me.

Update: R.J. Anderson of Fangraphs has more on Gwynn.

* * *

According to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, in addition to his $2 million base salary, Vicente Padilla could earn as much as $8 million in incentives as a starter or $6 million in incentives as a reliever.

Dec 05

Amid the flurry on the mound, quiet times in left field (for now)


Jeff Roberson/APAre the Dodgers sincere when they say Xavier Paul is a contender to start next season?

Overall, I’m satisfied – even impressed – with how Ned Colletti has pulled together the 2011 Dodger starting rotation over the past month.

I was worried about how the Dodgers would fill their three offseason vacancies in the rotation. Then, thanks in part to Hiroki Kuroda’s agreeability, the Dodgers got their front four. As in the past, I would have been prepared for the team to enter Spring Training with a combination of youngsters and journeymen battling for the No. 5 spot. But the Dodgers didn’t even make us wait until December before filling that spot with a solid (though not spectacular) starter in Jon Garland.

There was another shoe to drop: Garland admitted to AM 710 that there are concerns about his health. Whether this means shades of Jason Schmidt remains to be seen, but it’s hard to get too worked up when the salary commitment to Garland is about 90% less than what the Dodgers paid Schmidt (are still paying, in fact). Garland figures to give the Dodgers something, and perhaps more than something.

There have been rumors that the Dodgers aren’t done with the pitching, that they are contemplating also bringing back adding Vicente Padilla as a swingman, a super-utility pitcher. The addition would further increase the Dodgers’ chances of presenting a smothering pitching staff next season, led by Clayton Kershaw in the role of Tim Lincecum, only wholesomer.  Yes, my friends, the Dodgers have their ace – or rather, their king and his court.

All that being said …

The left-field situation resembles what we expected the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation to look like. Journeymen, kids and babies. Jay Gibbons is Jeff Weaver, Xavier Paul is John Ely, Jamie Hoffmann is Carlos Monasterios, Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands are Chris Withrow and Rubby de la Rosa. I’m not losing sleep over it – certainly not in December. Should it remain this way until April, I’ll admit I’ll be surprised.  But also fascinated.

If the Dodgers don’t make any big additions in the outfield – and it could be months before we know – they will be doing exactly what they did when they handed four April starts to Charlie Haeger.  That they did so once means they could do it again, but I have trouble believing the Dodgers have invested all this money in catcher, second base and the starting rotation, just to let left field twist in the wind.

On the other hand, they might sign Scott Podsednik and think they’ve done something useful, and simply be wrong.

* * *

Following the news that former Dodger outfielder Jayson Werth had signed a remarkable seven-year, $126 million contract with Washington, I tweeted the following:

At Matt Kemp’s current age (26), Jayson Werth hit .235/.338/.374 before sitting out his age-27 season because of injury.

Through 2009: Matt Kemp career 116 OPS+, Jayson Werth career 115 OPS+. Kemp is 5 1/2 years younger.

The point, I hope is clear, is not to say that Matt Kemp is better than Jayson Werth (though he might be, sooner than people think). Rather, it’s to remind people that it’s a wee bit early to be giving up on Kemp because he had a disappointing season at age 25.

If we stipulate that Kemp has some issues to address going forward, let’s remember that they are not insurmountable.

* * *

I was very satisfied with the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire,” both in how it wrapped up this season’s threads and set up Season 2. We haven’t had any formal TV chat here in a while, so if anyone wants to share their thoughts, please feel free.

Nov 19

Regarding young players peaking early …

This article by Tim Marchman for SI.com about the development (or lack thereof) of young prodigies is an interesting read, and not just because it manages to mention Tom Brunansky twice in the third paragraph:

Since the most valuable thing in baseball is a young star signed to a cheap contract, I was fairly shocked when I learned the Arizona Diamondbacks are, if not actively shopping outfielder Justin Upton, at least willing to listen to offers for him. Perhaps they know secret things about him; perhaps new general manager Kevin Towers simply doesn’t like the cut of his jib. Most likely he’s available in the sense that all players are available. (Scoop: The Atlanta Braves would happily trade Jason Heyward to the Giants in exchange for Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.) Possibly, though, the Diamondbacks have been doing some math.

Here is a filthy secret about young stars: They don’t generally improve. Baseball fans have it in their minds that a player will, at 27, be a better version of the player he was at 21. On average, that’s true. This chart, for example, is a bit technical, but shows that the typical hitter will, at 27, be about 10 percent more valuable per plate appearance than he was when he was six years younger.

What defines a great player, though, is that he isn’t anything like an average one. And Justin Upton is a great player, or close. Two years ago, when he was 21, he hit .300/.366/.532, good for an adjusted OPS of 129. In the last 30 years, just eight other hitters have done as well by that age: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, Jason Heyward, Miguel Cabrera and… Tom Brunansky. That’s five players who are or one day will be in the Hall of Fame, one who’s on course to join them, a player who turned 21 in August, and… Tom Brunansky. Upton’s prospects are obviously high. …

Take our other young stars as guides to what may be in store for the lucky owner of Upton’s contract over the next five years. From ages 23 to 27, Rodriguez’s adjusted OPS of 153 was actually lower than the 160 mark he posted at 20. Griffey, Raines and Henderson all hit basically the same at those ages as they did at 21, while Brunansky hit much worse. Only Pujols and Cabrera hit new levels.

None of this is of course any knock on these players. Once you’re hitting like a Hall of Famer, there is no real improvement you can make, unless you’re Albert Pujols and thus capable of hitting like Mickey Mantle rather than Hank Aaron. (Scoop: St. Louis has a good first baseman.) The point is just that you can’t expect the kind of linear improvement from a historically talented player that you can from a merely excellent one. Baseball is hard, and going from great to greater is in many ways harder than going from good to great. …

If you’re wondering how this might apply to Matt Kemp, so am I. In some ways, it might not apply at all, and there’s certainly enough mystery about Kemp to suggest he might be an exception to any rule. But if it influenced me at all, the article made me think that Kemp could easily rebound to his earlier established level of success (2009), but perhaps just not ever exceed it by all that much.

* * *

Here’s the latest McCourt update, from The Associated Press:

Mediation between Jamie and Frank McCourt involving ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers will resume as they await a judge’s ruling on whether a postnuptial marital agreement is valid in their divorce case.

Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman is expected Friday to meet with each side separately and present a settlement. Both McCourts are expected to be in a downtown courtroom and the terms of the proposal will likely be kept confidential.

Judge Scott Gordon has about five weeks to decide on the disputed 10-page marital agreement that exists in two versions – one that gives Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and one that doesn’t. …

* * *

  • Get ready: It’s clear that next season will be the last before MLB adds a second wild-card team to each league. Starting in 2012, the wild-card teams will play each other for the right to reach the division series; the only question is how many games they will play.
  • The Dodgers had a lot of bad players in 2010, notes Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs. Only Pittsburgh, Seattle and Cleveland had more individuals who had negative Wins Above Replacement, and only four other teams (including the Angels) had more total negative WAR.
  • Been meaning to post about this for a few days: The setup for Saturday’s Northwestern-Illinois football game at Wrigley Field is crazy. (Update: Only one end zone will be used, writes Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk.)
  • Read this short elegy for slain publicist Ronni Chasen, by Margy Rochlin for L.A. Weekly.