May 03

Matt Kemp and .400: One in a million

After ESPNLosAngeles asked me to write a piece exploring whether Matt Kemp could hit .400 this year, I was tempted to turn in a one-word column, but I ultimately went with this:

When a ballplayer takes a .400 batting average into May, you’re supposed to know not to ask whether he can take it through the end of the season.

You know that no major leaguer has hit .400 over a season since Ted Williams in 1941. You know it’s a barrier that has withstood Stan Musial, Rod Carew, George Brett, Andres Galarraga, Tony Gwynn, Larry Walker, Nomar Garciaparra, Todd Helton, Barry Bonds and Ichiro Suzuki — all of whom have hit at least .375 since ’41, but never .400.

What does Matt Kemp, now batting .411 on May 2, have that these guys didn’t have? Probably nothing, or a figure approaching nothing.

Last weekend, David Pinto of Baseball Musings ran some numbers. Kemp had just gone 2-for-4 in Friday’s Los Angeles Dodgers victory over Washington, raising his batting average to .452. Pinto found that Kemp’s probability of hitting .400 this year was 0.0000016.

If he played a million baseball seasons, the odds say Kemp wouldn’t hit .400 in two of them. And that was before his batting average fell 43 points in less than a week.

So what are we doing here?

Here are two reasons to keep having the conversation …

Read the entire piece here.

* * *

  • Stan Kasten, the most impressive figure at Wednesday’s Dodger press conference, is profiled by Kevin Baxter of the Times, while colleague Peter Guber is interviewed by the Times’ Roger Vincent.
  • Mark Walter is profiled by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Despite the fact that the number of cars parking in Dodger Stadium has no bearing on how much money Frank McCourt will receive going forward, the Times decided to perpetuate the mistaken assumption of others by running an op-ed from David Kipen calling for a boycott of the parking lots — or, if I’m reading correctly, a half-boycott.
  • Dodger batting practice pitcher Pete Bonfils was interviewed by Ron Cervenka for Think Blue L.A.
  • The Dodgers are reportedly close to taking a minimum-salary flyer on Angels castoff Bobby Abreu. Given that Abreu would probably replace one of four third basemen on the roster — Juan Uribe if he goes on the disabled list, Adam Kennedy otherwise — I’ve heard worse ideas.
  • A pairing to treasure, courtesy of Jon SooHoo:

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Apr 13

Kasten no crazy spender

Incoming Dodger co-owner and organization leader Stan Kasten has no history of handing out mega-contracts, despite his teams having money to spend, writes Jayson Stark of ESPN.com:

… Well, what do you find if you study Kasten’s past, back in the day when he was the president of the Atlanta Braves (1986-2003) and Washington Nationals (2006-10)? You don’t find a single contract that will remind you of, say, the Prince Fielder deal. We’ll tell you that.

In all that time, Kasten’s teams never handed out a contract longer than five years to any free agent from outside their organization. And the only six-year deal, even to one of their own players, went to Andruw Jones in 2001 — at a time when he was 24 years old.

So do people within the industry see this man suddenly turning into a spend-a-holic who starts firing nine- and 10-year deals at whoever wants to take them? Heck, no.

“That’s not Stan Kasten’s M.O,” said one veteran agent. “I’m sure they’ll be a franchise that makes moves. But I’m also sure that when Stan makes decisions, it won’t be like the kind of decisions Mike Illitch makes.”

“When it looks like a sure thing, it ain’t,” said another prominent agent. “Look at the Nationals. Ted Lerner has more money than God, and look how long it took him to start handing out big contracts. And did he hand them out while Stan was there? No. It happened after he left. So I know everyone anticipates him spending wildly now. But I’m not so sure.”

Is it coincidence that the Nationals stuffed $126 million in Jayson Werth’s pockets a couple of months after Kasten departed? We don’t know anyone in baseball who thinks Kasten would have signed off on that deal. …

… Nobody in baseball has a better feel for that than Kasten’s longtime general manager in Atlanta, John Schuerholz.

“It’s fair to say this group is out to re-establish the great Dodger brand,” Schuerholz told Rumblings. “But how that translates into making decisions to spend big money on big-name free agents, I don’t think that’s automatic.”

Now would Schuerholz be surprised to see the Kasten/Magic Dodgers chasing the most ballyhooed free agents in the game? No, he “wouldn’t be surprised to see them do that,” he said.

“But I don’t think they’ll do it every day,” Schuerholz said. “I don’t think they’ll do it all the time. What I’m sure they’ll do is what Stan has always tried to do — build a rock-solid organization and build it largely around homegrown talent. And at the same time, I’m sure he won’t shy away from the right free agent. But I underline the word, ‘right.’” …

Stark has more, so check out the entire piece.

Mar 28

Cash for the merchandise, cash for the button hooks


Bill Shaikin of the Times corraborates a Wall Street Journal report by Matthew Futterman. that the new Dodger ownership is paying all cash for the Dodgers, wiping out the team’s debt without using the TV money. Skeptics remain, however.

“The bid was described as a ’100% cash offer,’” Futterman wrote. “Mr. Walter is making a significant personal contribution to the purchase price, with Guggenheim Partners, of which he is chief executive, playing a substantial role in financial contribution.”

Adds Shaikin:

… the deal is all cash and no financing, so it wouldn’t add to the Dodgers’ already significant debt load. The purchase price for the team itself is $2 billion — roughly $1.6 billion in cash and $400 million in debt assumption. An additional $150 million is for a joint venture between the Johnson group and outgoing owner Frank McCourt to control the parking lots surrounding the stadium.

Under terms of the deal, no development would take place on the lots unless the Johnson group and McCourt agree. The deal also ensures that McCourt can retain partial ownership of the lots and share in any future development revenue.

The money fans pay to park at Dodgers games goes to the new ownership group. …

Whether there are some games being played to facilitate this all-cash payment, I don’t know.  Andrew Zimbalist is among the economists who are aghast at the sale price, according to this Arash Markazi piece at ESPNLosAngeles.com. Despite reports otherwise, they seem to believe that the Dodgers’ future TV money is being used to fund the deal.

The importance relates to what’s left over to invest in the team after the sale is done. Chad Moriyama reminds us that if the Guggenheim group has the cash to fund the Dodger purchase, we shouldn’t worry if they overpaid. Everything centers on that “if.”

At this point, I’m not sure any pundit really knows. And with this much money at play, I’m also not sure the Dodger operating budget — small by comparison — depends on how much cash was paid up front. Let’s put it this way: The Dodgers are certainly less likely to reject a star player than they were before Tuesday, let alone let someone like Hiroki Kuroda walk away for a million or so. I’m still much more worried about which star players the new management thinks are worthwhile to begin with.

Meanwhile …

  • Bill Plaschke of the Times has a news interview with Johnson, Kasten and Walter. It’s worth the click. ESPNLosAngeles.com and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com had similar conversations.
  • Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon think they could beat Magic Johnson in one-on-one basketball today, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times. I’m not so sure … and Tony Gwynn Jr. agrees with me.
  • Former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley told Shaikin that he believes in Johnson and Kasten.
  • Joe Flint of the Times says that your cable TV bill (if you have one) will help fund the Dodgers’ acquisition.
  • Ross Newhan wonders if the sale of the team was destined for Magic all along.
  • Phil Gurnee writes at True Blue L.A. about how amazing it is for us Dodger fans who grew up adoring Johnson to see him in this position.
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness shares his thoughts.
  • J.P. Breen of Fangraphs looks at possible future free-agent targets for the Dodgers.
  • If you want to go back and read my Variety story on Johnson’s plans to launch family-friendly cable channel Aspire, here it is.
  • Let’s hear it for 44-year-olds! Omar Vizquel will be on the Opening Day roster of the Blue Jays, according to The Associated Press.
  • The turnover of former Dodgers continues, with Chin-Lung Hu and Joe Thurston headed to the Phillies, as noted by MLB Trade Rumors.
  • Katie Sharp of ESPN.com examines whether Chad Billingsley’s problems last year related to his slider.
  • Oh yeah – the Dodgers played today.
Mar 27

What’s next for the Dodgers’ new owners?

My initial thoughts on the sale of the Dodgers can be found at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Dodgers fans, you can come out of your hiding places.

I can’t promise what you’ll find on the outside, but it’s time to tiptoe back into the world.

Tonight’s announcement that Frank McCourt has agreed to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers, pending approval by federal bankruptcy court, is unequivocally a new door being opened to fans of the franchise, even if McCourt is regrettably remaining a partner (though thankfully, not the sole owner) in a separate group that will retain control of the land surrounding the stadium.

There is every possibility for things to go wrong under the new ownership, fronted by local hero Magic Johnson and underwritten by Chicago financial firm Guggenheim Partners, but there are also primary reasons to have faith that things will go right. …

Read the entire piece here.

Dec 02

The Dodgers’ other No. 32? Magic joins potential ownership group


Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesMagic Johnson of the Los Angeles Dodgers?

From Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine:

At a time when Major League Baseball wants to restore the Los Angeles Dodgers’ brand following years of damage under the ownership of Frank McCourt, Earvin “Magic” Johnson — arguably the most popular athlete in the city’s history — is a major player in a group that wants to buy the team.

“I’m a big baseball fan,” Johnson said by phone Friday, “and you think about what the Dodgers have meant to baseball and to Los Angeles, and that part’s a no-brainer. … I’ve been to that place [Dodger Stadium] hundreds and hundreds of times, every year.”

Johnson was approached about a month ago by Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals — someone Johnson has known for about 30 years, and who once offered him a job to coach the Atlanta Hawks. Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a private global financial services firm, is the money muscle behind the group, which is called Guggenheim Baseball Management. According to a fact sheet about the group, Guggenheim Partners has more than $125 billion in assets under management.

As Johnson described it, their ownership of the Dodgers — if it happens — would work this way: Walter would write the big checks; Kasten would oversee the baseball operations; and Johnson, who recently sold his ownership share of the Lakers, would work as a president or vice president on both the business side and in recruiting players, when needed.

“I want to win,” said Johnson, who met with six different groups of potential bidders for the Dodgers before joining forces with Walter and Kasten. “We want to win. Not only do we have the guy who can write the check to buy the team, but we have to have somebody who can acquire quality people and talent, and Stan knows how to do that better than anybody. … We’ve got a great plan.”

Major League Baseball has shaped ownership groups in the past, picking someone from one bidding group and coupling that person with another. With the Dodgers going through bankruptcy court, though, the process for purchasing the club is expected to be more draconian, and based more on financial might than the whims of MLB. After a small group of potential buyers is selected for auction, the winner is likely to be based on which group submits the highest bid.

The sale process for the Dodgers could begin as soon as next week, when financial details of the team will be released to prospective buyers. The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday’s editions that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban intends to bid for the Dodgers. …

Don’t underestimate the importance to this group of Kasten (for the baseball experience) and Walter (for the cash that interests Dodger owner Frank McCourt). Johnson adds a nice touch, one that would galvanize fan feelings toward the group with his personality and emphasis on winning while also bringing some understanding doing business with the local community, but his presence won’t make or break the deal.