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.”
Dec 04

Manny happy returns?

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

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

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

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

  • Two views of the Dodgers’ Chris Capuano signing: Eric Seidman of Fangraphs doesn’t hate it, while Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com thinks it pretty grim.
  • DodgerTalk alum Ken Levine said he will do more Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts next year.
  • Russell Martin is expected to return to the Yankees in 2012, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Ken Arneson has an interesting piece on why the opening of a Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek is meaningful to the rest of the baseball world.
Sep 18

September 18, 2006: Here comes the end of the world


Jeff Lewis/APThere’s home, Nomar. There’s home.

For the five years since it took place, I’ve had this vision of the 4+1 game.

September 18, 2006. I replay the game in my head, a game that, unfathomably, stood toe-to-toe with the R.J. Reynolds game in 1983 as the greatest game in Dodger Stadium history, and I hear The Who’s “Had Enough” as the soundtrack.

As the 2006 baseball season bore down on its finish, the Dodgers were in a vexing battle with the San Diego Padres for first place in the National League West. An 11-5 pasting by the Padres knocked Los Angeles into last place on May 5. The Dodgers staggered back and reached first barely a month later, but in a tight division, San Diego drove them back to last with a 7-6, 11-inning victory July 24.

It was that kind of year. When the first day of August dawned, the Dodgers were still on the bottom looking up. Just 10 days later, Kenny Lofton’s walkoff RBI single beat Colorado, and the Dodgers were atop the NL West looking down.

And there in first place they stayed, until September 17, when Padres pinch-hitter Termel Sledge’s RBI single in the ninth inning broke a 1-1 tie, leading to Jonathan Broxton’s first career loss in the majors. The Dodgers had handed first place back to San Diego again.

And so when I think of September 18, 2006, I hear Roger Daltrey singing, practically shouting …

I’ve had enough of bein’ nice
I’ve had enough of right and wrong
I’ve had enough of tryin’ to love my brother …

* * *

It was an unusual night – a Monday finale of a four-game series. “Here we go ahead for the final time,” Vin Scully said at the start of the local cable broadcast, “the Dodgers desperate for a win. … If it feels like a playoff or postseason game, that of course is the aim of each team.”

Three players who had begun Sunday’s game on the bench were in the Monday starting lineups. The fellow batting cleanup for San Diego was familiar – his name was Mike Piazza, slugging .500 in his first season in San Diego after 7 1/2 in New York and in his final season in the National League.

For the Dodgers, the two big changes were these: Rookie outfielder Andre Ethier was rested in favor of new acquisition Marlon Anderson, and returning to play after missing two games with a strained quad was Nomar Garciaparra, who had talked manager Grady Little into starting him. At the time, you had to know their numbers or their looks to know who these guys were – this was part of the brief era in which the Dodgers wore no names on the back of their jerseys.

On the mound, who knew what to expect? Brad Penny had earned a start in that summer’s All-Star game, striking out Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in the first inning, but had been inconsistent ever since, posting a 5.81 ERA. In his past two starts, he had lost 7-0 to the Mets and won 6-0 against the Cubs. On the other side, Jake Peavy had been dominating the Dodgers as usual (two runs allowed in 14 previous innings that year), but his overall season ERA was a modest 4.17.

Jeff Lewis/APRussell Martin tries to settle down Brad Penny in the midst of San Diego’s four-run first inning.

With fans still pouring in to the ballpark, Penny retired the first two hitters, Dave Roberts and Brian Giles, before Adrian Gonzalez lined a 3-1 pitch into center field, bringing Piazza to bat.

“In recent games against the Dodgers, Mike looked like he was pressing,” Scully said as Piazza worked the count full. “He was trying to pull pitches that were down and away.” Almost on cue, we saw vintage Piazza, hammering the 3-2 pitch, driving it five feet below the top of the center-field wall on the fly, for an RBI double. The game was on: 1-0 Padres.

Penny walked Russell Branyan, bringing a visit to the mound from Rick Honeycutt and a visit to the plate from Mike Cameron, whom Scully pointed out had hit five home runs against the Dodgers so far in 2006. On the first pitch after Honeycutt returned to the dugout, Cameron shot the ball off the short wall in right field for a standup triple, driving in two runs (Nos. 14 and 15 vs. Los Angeles that year) to make the score 3-0.

“The Dodgers in a huge hole,” Scully said. Down in the Dodger bullpen, Aaron Sele began to warm up – not for the first time this night. Not by a longshot.

Nor was the hole finished being dug. Geoff Blum hit an 0-2 pitch to right field to drive in Cameron for a 4-0 lead, before Josh Barfield flied out to finally end the inning.

But the Dodgers wasted no time trying to rally. Rafael Furcal bunted for a single, and Lofton’s hit sent him to second. Garciaparra hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but ever-irascible Jeff Kent doubled to deep center field, driving home Furcal to get Los Angeles on the scoreboard. Peavy limited the damage to one run, but as he walked off the mound, he and Dodger first-base coach Mariano Duncan began shouting at each other.

I’ve had enough of bein’ good
And doin’ everything like I’m told I should
If you need a lover, you’d better find another …

* * *

The Dodgers pulled closer. After Penny struck out three in the second inning, Anderson – the August 31 discard from the Washington Nationals who had made surprising contributions in Los Angeles – hit a one-out solo home run. And after Russell Martin threw out Cameron trying to steal to end a two-out Padre threat in the top of the third, Furcal hit a solo homer of his own to dead center field.

“A mighty man is he,” Scully said of Furcal, who hit 15 home runs that year. “And you want to talk about a team trying to bounce back.”

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJeff Kent, shown here against the Padres in August, went 4 for 5 with three extra-base hits.

Before the inning was over, Kent hit his second double in as many at-bats, once more to center field, a ball at the wall that Cameron leaped for but came up empty. “Standing hands on hips, trying to figure out how he missed it,” Scully observed.

J.D. Drew entered the box next, and he sliced a breaking ball left up in the zone by Peavy for a ground-rule double to left field to tie the game, bringing the crowd to its feet. In fact, Martin then almost put the Dodgers ahead right there, but Peavy speared the first-pitch line drive off his bat.

The score was 4-4 after three innings. Not once over the next four innings was a team retired in order, but not once did a team score.

Each missed a tremendous opportunity. In the top of the fifth, after another Gonzalez single, Penny walked Piazza and Branyan to load the bases with two out, but Cameron flied to right. In the bottom of the sixth, Anderson singled, Wilson Betemit walked and pinch-hitter Oscar Robles loaded the sacks with none out when he sacrificed and reached first on a fielder’s choice. But Furcal hit into a forceout at home, and then Lofton grounded into a 1-2-3 double play.

By the eighth inning, the starting pitchers were long gone. And so was any remnant of sanity in this game. The attendance was announced. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers drew a legitimate 55,831 fans. Five years ago tonight, the Dodgers registered their highest ticket sales for a Monday game ever, capping a record for a four-game series: 219,124.

Broxton entered the game in the eighth inning. Scully commented that after Sunday’s loss, Broxton had said wasn’t nervous, but he was worried he had been tipping his pitches. “Jon was just 22 in the middle of June when he made the jump from Jacksonville, and now he has the key role as the set-up man.” It was his fifth game in seven days; he had thrown 88 pitches since the previous Tuesday, and was about to throw 22 more.

Things soon turned grim. With one out, Blum walked, and Barfield drove one to right-center field that Drew couldn’t get. Lofton overran the carom, Martin dropped the throw home, the go-ahead run scored and Barfield ended up on third base. Pinch-hitter Todd Walker then hit a flare over the drawn-in infield to give San Diego a two-run lead.

Roberts struck out (a career-high fourth for the former Dodger outfielder), but Walker went to second on a steal and third on a wild pitch. Giles then sent Drew to the right-field wall, which he banged into while making the inning-ending catch.

Not once had the Dodgers led, but not once had they failed to score in an inning in which they trailed. Sure enough, off reliever Scott Linebrink, Anderson drove one down the right-field line, running through a stop sign to reach third base with a triple, and Betemit lined an 0-2 pitch up the middle. Just like that, the lead had been reduced to one.

“Boy is this a game, huh?” Scully marveled. “Wow. And this crowd loving every moment of it. It’s been a roller-coaster ride from depression to euphoria and all the stops in between.

“Boy, it’s not Monday night here. It is Mardi Gras night. It is New Year’s Eve night.”

With two out, Lofton doubled with two out to send pinch-runner Julio Lugo to third base. Tying run was 90 feet away, go-ahead run one base behind him.

But Garciaparra struck out. You could practically fit the goat’s horns for him.

Life is for the living
Takers never giving …

* * *

Takashi Saito, the 36-year-old first-year major-leaguer from Japan, was asked by the Dodgers to protect the one-run deficit. There was little reason to expect he wouldn’t: In 70 innings, emerging in the spring in the wake of Eric Gagne’s last gasp as a Dodger, Saito had a 1.93 ERA and 93 strikeouts against 63 baserunners in 70 innings.

The importance of keeping the Padres close was clear, as Scully noted. “They’ve won 26 games by one run,” he said, “and one of the big reasons is warming up in the bullpen. Yep, it’s Trevor time.”

But Gonzalez led off the ninth with his third single of the game, and Manny Alexander (Piazza had exited the game for a pinch-runner in the seventh) bunted him to scoring position. Up came Josh Bard, the Padres’ lesser-known catcher but one who had an .869 OPS, even better than Piazza at that moment.

On a night filled with long fly balls, Bard drove what appeared to be the capper of the night, to deep center. Lofton went back. He leaped. His glove went over the fence; the ball banged off his wrist and back onto the field, while an uncertain Gonzalez advanced only to third. “Goaltending,” remarked Scully as he watched the replay.

Saito walked Cameron intentionally in the hopes of forcing an inning-ending double play, but his next pitch to Blum went to the backstop, and the Padres doubled their lead. Then Blum hit a sacrifice fly, and San Diego led by three in the ninth. Scully practically threw the white flag.

“And the Dodgers will have to collect themselves and go after Pittsburgh,” he said. “It has been a Friday night and a Saturday night combined emotionally, but now it’s starting to feel like Monday.”

It’s not as if the Padres got greedy after that, but you could argue they suffered from an embarrassment of riches. After Barfield singled to drive in Cameron and give San Diego a 9-5 lead, Scully glanced back at the Padres bullpen, looking to see if Trevor Hoffman was still getting loose.

“We said it was Trevor time, but maybe not,” Scully reported. “Nope, it’s Jon Adkins now. That figured.”

Jack Cust made the third out of the top of the ninth. The Dodgers trailed by four runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Up to that point, Adkins had allowed one home run in 51 1/3 innings in 2006.

“The Dodgers are asked to do what they did (before), but they’ve run out of innings,” waxed Scully.

Here comes the end
Here comes the end of the world …

* * *

Francis Specker/APJ.D. Drew follows through, bringing the Dodgers within two.

And then, a symphony …

Kent conducts a 1-0 pitch to center field, over Cameron, and out of the park.

“So Adkins is rudely treated,” Scully says. “Two pitches, one run.”

Drew, strumming the strings on a 2-1 pitch …

“And another drive to deep right center, and that is gone! Whoa, was that hit!” exults Scully.

“What is that line? Do not go gentle into that good night. The Dodgers have decided they’re not going to go into that night without howling and kicking.”

Hoffman is quickly rushed into the game. “He has been absolutely magnificent against everybody, but especially against the Dodgers,” Scully says, adding that Hoffman’s last blown save against the Dodgers was in April 2001.

Francis Specker/APMartin hits it a ton, bringing the Dodgers within one.

Hofman throws his first pitch.

“And a drive to left center by Martin,” calls Scully. “That ball is carrying into the seats! Three straight home runs!”

Bedlam at Dodger Stadium, bedlam like it’s the ninth inning on September 11, 1983. But the Dodgers, as Scully reminds us, “are still a buck short.”

Francis Specker/APMarlon Anderson lets it fly, and the Dodgers are tied.

Anderson is the next batter. He has four hits and needs a double to hit for the cycle.

Hoffman throws his second pitch. Anderson swings. Immediately after his follow-through, he jolts out of the box …

“And another drive to right center …”

… two arms thrusting in the air …

“Believe it or not, four consecutive home runs! And the Dodgers have tied it up again!”

As Martin practically had to be restrained in the dugout from running onto the field, Anderson raced around the bases, leaping into his high five at home plate before sprinting to the dugout, where he disappeared under a white and blue volcano.

It was the first time since 1964 that a team had hit four consecutive home runs, and the first time it had ever been done in the ninth inning, let alone to erase a four-run deficit. (The six homers in nine innings were also the most by the Dodgers since they hit eight in the Shawn Green game in May 2002.)

“Can you believe this inning?” exclaimed Scully, still agog. “Can you believe this game? … It is an unbelievable game.”

Before the cheering had even begun to subside, Lugo swung at his first pitch – still only the third pitch Hoffman had thrown in the game – and hit it on a trajectory to right-center that, for an instant, made the fans double-take. But it landed in Cameron’s glove. Ethier, batting for Saito, blooped out.

In the Dodgers’ last chance to win in nine innings, Furcal, 2 for 5 with a home run already, tattooed one himself, taking Giles to the warning track to right field before it was caught.

“Well, wouldn’t you know this was gonna go extra innings?” Scully said. “No, I don’t think you did when it was 9-5 in the ninth.

“This crowd is beside itself with joy. You can come down the wall now.”

* * *

With their top relievers already used, the Dodgers turned the guy that had warmed up for the first time back in the first inning, Aaron Sele. One of general manager Ned Colletti’s ongoing reclamation projects on the mound, Sele had joined the Dodger starting rotation in May and had a 2.91 ERA in 65 innings before the All-Star break. After a couple of poor July starts, soon followed by the acquisition of Greg Maddux, Sele ended up spending most of his second half in the bullpen (the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter that September, you might be surprised to remember, was Hong-Chih Kuo). Sele’s ERA had risen to 4.35, and he had pitched three total innings in the past two weeks.

But with the score 9-9, the Dodgers went to Sele over the other available options in the September Dodger bullpen: Giovanni Carrara, Elmer Dessens, Tim Hamulack and Eric Stults.

Sele retired Roberts (0 for 6) on a fly to center, but Giles doubled on a sharp hit down the left-field line past Lugo. Gonzalez, who had been tormenting the Dodgers all night – then again, who hadn’t – was walked intentionally.

Paul McAnulty, pinch-hitting for Alexander, killed a Sele pitch that Lofton caught at the wall. “That ball had a chance to go out but just died at the last minute,” Scully said. “There is a light breeze, but barely a zephyr.”

Sele dodged that bullet, but couldn’t avoid the next. Bard singled to right field, and Giles came home from second to score and once again give the Padres the lead.

Threatening to once again put the Dodgers down by four, Sele walked Cameron, who became the 23rd Padre to reach base. With no room to put anyone else, Sele, on the Dodgers’ 200th pitch of the game, induced an inning-ending fly to right.

“Boy, you talk about the anguish of a fan,” Scully said. “There’s a lot of it, but they’ll remember this game for a while.”

Padres 10, Dodgers 9, heading into the bottom of the 10th.

Rudy Seanez, who had pitched for the Dodgers in 1994 and 1995 (and would do so again in 2007), was the Padres’ 23rd player of the game and seventh pitcher, chosen ahead of relievers Scott Cassidy, Brian Sweeney and Mike Thompson. Nearing his 38th birthday. Seanez had struck out 52 in 51 innings combined with Boston and San Diego, but he had walked 29 and allowed seven home runs.

His first pitch to Lofton was a called strike, but his next two missed the zone. Strike two came on a check swing, but the next pitch was high and the one after that was inside, “and the Dodgers have a rabbit as the tying run,” Scully said as Lofton dropped his bat and headed to first base.

To the plate came Garciaparra.

Low and outside for ball one. Fastball for a strike. Low and outside for ball two. Inside for ball three.

Francis Specker/APNomar, hero.

On the 376th pitch of the night of September 18, 2006 …

“And a high fly ball to left field – it is a-way out and gone! The Dodgers win it, 11-10! Ha ha ha – unbelievable!”

The end of the world.

“I forgot to tell you,” Scully said after watching the celebration at home plate. “The Dodgers are in first place.”

* * *

Jeff Lewis/APGarciaparra celebrates on behalf of Dodger fans around the ballpark – and televisions and computers.

To this point, I haven’t quoted from the Dodger Thoughts game thread from the night of September 18, 2006. But while any one of us would rather have been in the ballpark, the online experience is not one I’ll forget.

You can see some of the highlights here, or you can go back to the original thread and re-experience from start to finish. But there’s only one way to finish this remembrance, and that’s with this classic:

2006-09-18 22:40:43
604. Xeifrank
Gameday seems to be broke. It keeps on saying every Dodger hitter is hitting a home run. Major software bug or something.
vr, Xei

Sep 05

In short term, Ellis has proven himself

A.J. Ellis has a .405 on-base percentage this season and, in 216 plate appearances, a .360 OBP in his career.

On a ballclub that has struggled with on-base skills (even considering the recent offensive surge), we’re past the point of considering whether Ellis belongs. He deserves a spot on the team until he proves otherwise, not the other way around.

Ellis has thrown out 27 percent of opposing basestealers in his career (13 of 48) with one career error and two career passed balls in 511 1/3 innings behind the plate.

* * *

Meanwhile, a comparison:

Martin has played more and been more effective defensively, but offensively, Barajas’ power has been an asset this year. Barajas would have to be willing to take a paycut to return to the Dodgers in 2012 – perhaps he will.

* * *

Tim Federowicz has a .431 on-base percentage and .627 slugging percentage with six homers in 83 at-bats since coming to Albuquerque in the Trayvon Robinson trade. Expect the Dodgers to call up the 24-year-old in the next couple of days.

May 15

Gap between Martin and Barajas is narrowing

On April 23, Russell Martin homered twice and walked, raising his 2011 on-base percentage to .410 and his slugging to .723.

Since then, Martin has gone 8 for 52 with nine walks, a .279 OBP and a .250 slugging.

Martin is still having a better season than the man who replaced him on the Dodgers, Rod Barajas, but the difference between the two is shrinking. The power is there with Barajas, whose main problem continues to be his walks – only five (against 33 strikeouts) in 126 plate appearances.

* * *

I couldn’t resist finding the irony in the fact that amid the maelstrom of poor-performing, massively paid Jorge Posada being dropped last in the Yankees’ lineup and then pulling himself out of the game entirely, the player selected to replace him Saturday was Andruw Jones, who knows a thing about maelstroms of poor-performing, massively paid players.

The other thing I noticed is that Posada’s adjusted OPS of 71 is still considerably higher than James Loney’s 50, even though Loney is on his hottest streak of the season.

Here’s what ESPN Stats and Information had to say about Posada: “Part of Jorge Posada’s poor start can be explained by a .164 batting average on balls in play, by far the lowest among 194 qualified players. However, it can’t all be blamed on bad luck, as Posada’s batted ball profile isn’t helping. His line drive rate is just 11.4, which is the sixth lowest among qualified players and would be by far his lowest since data is available in 2002.”

Feb 24

The travails of Podsednik and Martin

Catching up with two expatriates …

Here’s the first interview I’ve seen with Scott Podsednik since his offseason went south (non-geographically speaking). From the Canadian Press:

Scott Podsednik’s spring is not off to an ideal start, far from it, but at least he can take some solace in knowing that other years have also started poorly and turned out fine.

Like 2009, for instance.

“It’s a crazy game,” he said Wednesday after checking into camp with the Toronto Blue Jays. “A couple of years ago I was sitting on my couch at the start of the ’09 season, so anything can happen.

“I’ve learned over the years to just kind of focus on the things you can control, and all I can control is trying to get myself ready and playing my game in between the lines. Anything outside of that is not up to my decision, so I’m going to try to focus all my energy on things I can control.”

A sound approach and, given the circumstances, a wise one for the speed demon and former all-star.

Podsednik arrived in camp on a minor-league contract signed last week, the best deal for him after an off-season that didn’t play out anything like what he expected.

In November, he declined his end of a US$2-million mutual contract option for 2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and opted for free agency. It backfired since “for whatever reason my market just didn’t develop,” said Podsednik. …

Then there’s Russell Martin, who is not as ready for game action as he and the Yankees thought he would be.  From Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com:

The Yankees signed Russell Martin to be their everyday catcher, but he won’t be behind the plate when they open their exhibition season Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies.“I don’t think he’s quite ready to go and I’m not going to rush him,” manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “He still talks about [his knee] doesn’t quite feel the same as it did before. I told him, I want to know when you’re 100 percent. Because I don’t want any setbacks with him. When I put him in, I want him to be ready to go.”

The 28-year-old Martin passed a physical before signing a one-year, $4 million contract in December to replace Jorge Posada behind the plate. But within a matter of days, it was announced he would undergo surgery to repair “a small meniscus tear” in his right knee, the same surgery both Posada and CC Sabathia underwent in the offseason.

At the time, general manager Brian Cashman said, “It’s not a serious surgery at all,” that Martin’s recovery would take two to three weeks and that the catcher would be “back to normal within a month.”But now, nine weeks after the surgery, Martin is still feeling discomfort. Worse, on Wednesday, he added three ominous letters to the mix: MCL, as in medial collateral ligament.

“I injured my MCL in the offseason,” Martin said. “But the surgery wasn’t for the MCL, it was for the meniscus. When they looked at my knee they saw that I had a meniscus issue as well, so in the time it would take for the MCL to heal, the surgery would heal, so they might as well do it. It was just a prevention type thing.”

Whatever the real extent of the injury, it has so far prevented Martin from participating in the full range of catching drills — he has not taken part in blocking drills yet — and will keep him out of the first spring training game at least. …

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 08

Baby, why you gotta treat me this way?

As Russell Martin remains on his “Even though I said I was trying the past two years, I really wasn’t — but now that I’m gone, I really am” tour … some notes:

Feb 07

The Dodgers according to Ned Colletti


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

Ten days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[+] EnlargeZach Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 16

Stopping by the Internet on a Snowy Evening

And miles to link before I sleep …

  • The state of Don Mattingly is profiled by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Evan Bladh Sr. of Opinion of Kingman’s Performance continues to knock ‘em out of the park – here’s a great story about the Dodgers and Mister Marty.
  • The frustrating thing with Russell Martin is that he keeps telling us in April that he’s training like he’s never trained before, and then the following winter he inevitably tells us, “No, not really.” Anyway, Martin tells the Canadian Press that he had some personal “distractions” and “frustrations” during his last two years with the Dodgers, but this year, he’ll be back.
  • Dodger pitching prospects Javy Guerra and Chris Withrow were continuing their rehab from injuries at the team’s recent minicamp in Los Angeles, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Delino DeShields Jr., the 18-year-old reigning first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, was charged with a DUI, according to Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle.
  • Danny’s Farm, the Altadena animal farm tailored for special-needs children that was founded by former Dodger pitcher Jim Gott and his wife Cathy, has been closed because of zoning restrictions, reports Corina Knoll of the Times.
  • Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend by Larry Tye gets praise from Rob McMillin at 6-4-2.
  • Steve Dilbeck of the Times has a praiseworthy recap of Dennis Gilbert’s annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner Saturday.

Update:

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 16

Russell Martin looks ahead following a rough goodbye to Los Angeles


Jason O. Watson/US Presswire
Russell Martin

It’s really a complicated dance between struggling player and dubious team.

As we now know, Russell Martin did not score any financial windfall by signing with the New York Yankees after parting ways with the Dodgers. So from a money standpoint, there’s no indication whatsoever that the Yankees wanted Martin more than the Dodgers did.

Further, we know the Dodgers had a handicap. They were bound to the possibility that Martin might earn a substantial  raise through salary arbitration, had they guaranteed him a 2011 contract at the December 2 deadline for eligible players. Martin himself understands why the Dodgers might not have wanted to take that risk.

Despite all that, it’s pretty clear from his introductory press conference with the New York Yankees — who have named him their starting catcher — that Martin’s ego was bruised by the whole experience.

On an emotional level, you can understand it, even if it isn’t quite logical.  Martin himself seemed to be struggling with the contradiction.

“Not necessarily surprised,” Martin said of his reaction to being non-tendered by the Dodgers. “I always knew that there was a possibility, and it was probably a tough call for them.  You have a guy who wasn’t doing that good past couple of years, and probably getting a raise again (if arbitration was involved.

“It definitely, definitely wasn’t easy, but it’s kind of hard to explain emotionally how I was feeling. It was just one of those things. … I really wanted to see how much they really wanted me, because if they did, they would have tendered me a contract. See if they still believed in me and things of that nature.  By doing (what they did), they kind of gave me the answer I wanted to find out about.”

The Yankees, essentially, never had the same opportunity to hurt Martin’s feelings (justifiably or not) the way the Dodgers did. And so, once that December 2 deadline had passed, a fresh start was inevitable.

Martin said he doesn’t regret the money he possibly might have lost in the transition.

“I just really wanted to find out, and the only way to find out how much a team wants you is you take a risk,” he said.

Of course, Martin represents a risk for the Yankees as well. Not only has he been recovering from his season-ending hip injury, but his physical revealed a small meniscus tear in his right knee that will require surgery. The recovery time is expected to be three weeks.

Not surprisingly, Martin said he isn’t concerned.

“It’s the first time I had any problems with my knees, so I really don’t know what to expect,” Martin said. “From what I’ve heard, it’s a pretty simple operation. I think CC (Sabathia) had it done at the end of the year. Three-week recovery, and obviously I have to rehab.  I’m not too concerned with it — obviously the timing’s bad, because it will affect my offseason training a bit. But from what I’ve heard, I will be ready by Spring Training.”

Martin added that his hip has felt fine for about a month. He said that he can’t say for sure how it would feel after catching 10-12 games in a row, but then conceded that people don’t necessarily want him to do that anymore, as much as he might resist rest.

“I like playing baseball, so it’s hard for me to not want to catch, ever,” Martin said. “My best years are probably the years where I’ve caught the most. I don’t really have a number in mind. I like to let the manager dictate those types of things. (Writer’s note: We’ve heard otherwise in past seasons.)

“I’ve learned through the years, when I do feel my body is banged up, it’s better for the team for me to take a day rather than drive myself into the ground and be worthless for the rest of the year.”

Martin also talked about his offensive struggles of the past two years. In recent winters, stories of Martin’s offseason training have often come across like warning signs, each year seemingly bringing a different approach. Mostly, he feels he lost strength, then tried to compensate with his swing and ended up fouling that up.

This winter, he suggests, brings the back-to-basics edition.

“I think it’s (been) just me trying to make adjustments to strive to be even better,” he said. “I’ve tried some things to be a little more athletic, a little faster, instead of sticking to the basics of what made me successful. I think I almost got in my own way. So this year, I made sure to go back to my roots … instead of trying to do more, just really trying to reflect back on what got me there.”

He noted that while his offense has regressed, he feels his defense and handling of pitchers has only improved.

In the end, Martin seems genuinely pleased with where he has ended up: closer to his family home, in an everyday role (health permitting) and with another (and of course potentially better) contender.

“My main goal is to have a chance to win,” Martin said, “and if you want to pick a place to win, I don’t think there’s any better place to pick than New York with the Yankees.

“They’ve told me that I’m the starting catcher, and that’s what I expect to be. That’s what I’m training to be.  Obviously, I feel like I need to earn that. I don’t feel that there’s anything owed to me or anything like that, especially the way the last two years have gone for me. But my goal is to go in there and do the best I can and help this team win.”

Martin doesn’t leave Los Angeles without some regret.

“We got a taste of what we wanted to accomplish,” he said, “but there’s only one winner, and the goal is to win the World Series. We got to the playoffs — we had some good seasons, (but) we fell short a couple of years. It was a great experience, a good learning process.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed  in how it all ended, but what can you do?”

Dec 15

Martin’s base salary with Yanks lower than Dodgers’ final offer

According to Buster Olney of ESPN.com, Russell Martin’s base salary with the Yankees will be $4 million – lower than the Dodgers’ final offer to him two weeks ago. Not sure what the incentives were in the case of the Yankees’ deal – with the Dodgers, it’s been reported that he could have earned $1.5 million in incentives. Martin has passed his physical, Olney reported.

Dec 14

Russell Martin heads to the Bronx


Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Curtis Granderson scores the fourth run of the ninth inning for the Yankees ahead of Russell Martin’s tag June 27.

When Russell Martin last saw the Yankees, it was as he was being ejected in the 10th inning after striking out against Mariano Rivera on the night the Dodgers’ season turned nightmarish — the 8-6 collapse at Dodger Stadium on June 27.

Reportedly, Martin will be catching Rivera next season, as it appears he has signed with the Bronx Bombers. Financial information to come.

Farewell, Coltrane … you left me with a lot of good memories.