Aug 01

Nope – it’s Abreu

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 12:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Hanley Ramirez, 3B
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Luis Cruz, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Stephen Fife, P

Well, I was wrong. The Dodgers have designated Bobby Abreu for assignment to make room on the roster for Shane Victorino.

Abreu OPSed .905 in his first 33 games as a Dodger, through June 11, but since then the outfielder has been 16 for 90 with 11 walks and two extra-base hits in 37 games for a .490 OPS.

I’m genuinely surprised. In this money-is-no-object era for the Dodgers, I still see more potential for Abreu to help in the stretch run than Juan Uribe.

* * *

  • Victorino will wear No. 8 with the Dodgers, with Don Mattingly switching to No. 12. The switch-hitting Victorino is wearing the same number as the switch-hitting Reggie Smith did as a Dodger in the 1970s. Smith took No. 8 because Steve Yeager already had the outfielder’s preferred No. 7.
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked the prospects traded at the deadline this week. Ethan Martin is 11th, Scott McGough 24th, Logan Bawcom 25th and Leon Landry 30th out of 43.
  • Goldstein also produced a new ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball, with Zach Lee on the list at 47.
  • In the wake of Martin’s departure, the Dodgers promoted Andres Santiago to Double-A Chattanooga, reports Robert Emrich for MLB.com. The 22-year-old righty had a 1.76 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 41 innings for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga in July, while allowing only 21 hits and nine walks.
  • Jerry Hairston Jr. had an obscure but memorable throw, captured by Chad Moriyama.
  • Buster Olney names 10 leading August trade candidates in his column for ESPN.com.
  • This past weekend, I discussed Chad Billingsley’s season-long improvement in throwing strikes. At Fangraphs, Michael Barr delves deeper, noting that Billingsley is “going to his four seam fastball far more regularly and he’s almost abandoned his cutter.”
  • A year after it happened, the Trayvon Robinson trade gets a positive review from Scott Andes at Lasorda’s Lair.
  • Dodger Stadium cuisine was recently reviewed by Jeanne Fratello of the Jolly Tomato.
  • Former Dodger general manager Dan Evans had a post-deadline live chat today at Baseball Prospectus.
  • Houston finished July with a 3-24 record, the worst July any team has had in at least 50 years, notes David Pinto of Baseball Musings.
  • With no further introduction, a recent piece from Josh Wilker.
Feb 29

When you walk through the garden …

Rarely have I been retweeted more than I was Tuesday when I passed along this link to The Wire wind-up toys.

Now, unwind with these notes …

  • Don Mattingly confirmed to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. that he has no plans to bat A.J. Ellis second, citing his lack of speed in front of Matt Kemp. Unfortunately, the alternative candidates’ lack of on-base percentage in front of Kemp seems not to have entered into Mattingly’s thinking.
  • Mattingly also hinted that Juan Rivera would start 2012 as the Dodgers’ regular left fielder with occasional days off. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com added that Jerry Sands is still in the mix to be a platoon partner for Andre Ethier and James Loney.
  • Dodger relief prospect Shawn Tolleson was interviewed by John Parker of MiLB.com.
  • The Dodgers have the National League’s second-easiest early season schedule, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Nine of their first 34 games are against teams with winning records in 2011.
  • Here’s the full list, 200-deep, of Dodger prospect rankings from Brandon Lennox at True Blue L.A. Henry Heredia, this is your moment.
  • Gold Glove or not, Andre Ethier’s ranking in David Pinto’s PMR list for right fielders at Baseball Musings probably won’t surprise you. Matt Kemp in center field? You tell me what you think.
  • Trayvon Robinson is trying to reestablish himself after his hot start with Seattle turned into a rough finish, writes Larry Stone of the Seattle Times.
  • Tuesday in Jon SooHoo: two pics that fostered polar opposite reactions for me, Jerry Sands bunting and Matt Kemp skywalking.
  • Not surprisingly, initial reaction to the new book from Dirk Hayhurst, Out of My League, is positive. Examples: Andrew T. Fisher of Purple Row and Keith Olbermann at Baseball Nerd.
  • The statement from Ryan Braun sample-taker Dino Laurenzi is eloquently written.
  • Coming March 15-17 is a SABR Analytics conference in Arizona. Not coming at the same time is the Notalytics Conference in South Dakota, but I sure wish it were.
  • Emmett Ashford, the majors’ first African-American umpire, was given an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Chapman College, according to Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary.
  • Giancarlo Stanton: the slugger formerly known as Mike Stanton.
  • Harvard-Westlake’s Lucas Giolito hit 100 miles per hour while pitching a one-hitter for the Wolverines on Tuesday, writes Eric Sondhiemer of the Times.
  • Perfect for Leap Day: The Dodgers had the 29th-best offseason of all major-league teams, according to The Platoon Advantage.
  • KCRW’s Which Way L.A. now has its own blog.
  • Jonathan Abrams and Grantland published a vivid oral history of the 2004 Pacers-Pistons fight that spread into the stands.
  • Longtime Times columnist Steve Harvey is back writing “Only in L.A.,” host Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed announced. The first new edition is here.
  • Watch former Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob break a world-distance record for throwing a paper airplane at ESPN.com.
  • Farewell, Monkees and Brady Bunch star Davy Jones. I was a childhood fan of both. Here, from Variety, is the 1965 ad soliciting auditions for The Monkees
Sep 16

Trayvon’s way

Former Dodger prospect Trayvon Robinson is the subject of a great feature and multimedia presentation by Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times that illustrates just how improbable and challenging the young outfielder’s journey to the majors was.

Aug 05

Gordon lights Dodgers’ fire in 7-4 victory


Mark J. Terrill/APAnd he shall be Trayvon. And he shall be a good man.

Short-lost Dodger prospect Trayvon Robinson not only singled, he made a dazzling catch over the left-field fence for Seattle in Anaheim in his major-league debut tonight.

At least the Dodgers still have Dee Gordon.

Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndre Ethier congratulates Dee Gordon after the rookie scored the Dodgers’ first run.

Gordon laid a perfect bunt down the third-base line to start a six, count ‘em, six-run outburst in the third inning, and then outfought some ants for a diving grab in the seventh to help keep the Dodgers from blowing what remained of their lead, and Los Angeles outlasted Arizona, 7-4.

Gordon’s catch came with the bases loaded and the Dodgers’ 6-0 lead down to 6-3.  He dove to his right to catch a Justin Upton liner inches off the ground, then doubled up Sean Burroughs at second base.

Rod Barajas, whose two-run double capped the Dodgers’ scoring in the third inning, in the eighth became the third Dodger with double-digit home runs this year, giving the Dodgers an extra run to work with. After Mike MacDougal allowed a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth, Javy Guerra came on for a career-best four-out save.

The Dodgers had 11 hits and five walks, led by Juan Rivera’s perfect night (single and three walks), Casey Blake (3 for 5), Andre Ethier (single, double, walk) and Matt Kemp (single, walk). Chad Billingsley was charged with three runs in six innings. And, by the way, Tim Federowicz, who came in the Robinson deal, homered for Albuquerque tonight.

The Los Angeles youth movement continues Saturday with the promotion of Nate Eovaldi, whose contract was officially purchased by the Dodgers. John Ely was sent back to Albuquerque without pitching this week.

Aug 05

Zesty pregame souffle

If Dodger fans ever sue the McCourts, they could do worse than Sally Jensen for representation. Unless Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer is available …

Elsewhere:

  • Trayvon Robinson is in fact making his major-league debut tonight in Southern California, suiting up for Seattle against the Angels. “These are probably the best four days of my life,” Robinson told Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times. (In case you missed it, be sure to read Christopher Jackson’s Wednesday feature on Robinson for Albuquerque Baseball Examiner.)
  • More from the In Case You Missed It Files: “Clayton Kershaw: The stuff of legend?” by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Stephen Colbert took over the MLB Twitter feed today.  Sample: “Go Tiburones de la Guaira! Oh, do you guys not follow the Venezuelan league? Sorry, I thought I was tweeting to real fans.”
  • Tony Phillips is still playing pro ball at age 52, believe it or not, notes Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs.
  • Mark Heisler, the longtime NBA writer for the Times who was laid off after 32 years, sent a farewell piece to Poynter.
  • Reporter on the Television Critics Assn. press tour to Zooey Deschanel today: “When did you first know you were adorable?” It wasn’t my question, but I understood it.
Jul 31

Dodgers trade Trayvon Robinson for trio

Potential 2012 starting outfielder Trayvon Robinson, 23, has been sent by the Dodgers to Seattle as part of a three-team trade that brought Boston minor-leaguers Tim Federowicz, Juan Rodriguez and Stephen Fife to the Dodgers. Erik Bedard was the main prize of the deal, going from the Mariners to the Red Sox.

For the Dodgers, the key to the deal appears to be Federowicz, a catcher who will contend for playing time in Los Angeles next year. I think I might have been happier with Mark Brendanowicz. Turning 24 on Friday, Federowicz only has a .337 on-base percentage and .397 slugging percentage, however, with Double-A Portland in the Eastern League. SoxProspects.com praises his defense.

Rodriguez, a 22-year-old righthander, has pitched out of the bullpen this year and has 88 strikeouts in 59 innings (13.4 per nine), but with 32 walks and a 5.19 ERA. In Rookie ball last year, he pitched in 12 games, starting nine, with a 3.51 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Fife, a 24-year-old righty, has a 3.66 ERA and 6.1 K/9 in 19 games (18 starts) for Portland. That’s a bit below what John Ely could brag about after pitching in Double-A in 2009 at age 23.

For those three, the Dodgers gave up Robinson (24 in September), who has a .375 on-base percentage and .563 slugging percentage (26 homers) this year for Triple-A Albuquerque.  Robinson, who has hit well on the road as well as at home this season, has had his fine year marred by striking out 122 times in 100 games. But it’s stunning to see him traded for such an offensively challenged catcher and two sketchy pitching prospects.

In 2007, A.J. Ellis had a .382 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage in Double-A – better than what Federowicz has – and Ned Colletti does all he can to keep Ellis from getting regular playing time.

The only rationale I can think of is that the Dodgers think they’ll do better in the offseason trying to find a proper left fielder than they would trying to find a proper catcher. Essentially, Robinson was not in their plans, and they decided to unload him to fill a positional need. But it’s still puzzling, because the trade feels less like a step forward behind the plate and more like a step backward in outfield depth.

Jun 19

Mattingly deserves mulligan for Dodger collapse


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireDon Mattingly

I’ve noticed on different parts of the World Wide Internet that frustration about the Dodgers has started being directed toward manager Don Mattingly, something that I suppose is predictable and unexpected all at once.

It’s predictable because frustration about losing always falls at some point in the manager’s lap, as we can see by the end today of Edwin Rodriguez’s 163-game tenure skippering the Florida Marlins. But at the same time, I’m taken aback by the idea of Mattingly as whipping boy, because I don’t know how people can expect Mattingly to do much more about the situation than he already has. And I say this as someone who was repeatedly skeptical about his being hired in the first place.

If anything, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes, Mattingly has every right to share in the current frustration, rather than be a target of it.

Starting pitching: Not much to say here. The relative strength of the team, it has faltered in recent days, but as we’ve seen by his recent comments about Chad Billingsley, Mattingly is if nothing else trying to do something about it.

Bullpen: Working without Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Vicente Padilla, Blake Hawksworth, Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario for long stretches this season – in case you hadn’t noticed, that’s pretty much an entire bullpen right there – Mattingly has actually managed better in this area than I would expect from a protege of Joe Torre. He hasn’t overworked any pitchers, and he has not let a player’s lack of experience get in the way of using him if he’s the best option. Mattingly’s a bit more infatuated with inherited runner-squanderer Mike MacDougal than I would like, but again, when a non-roster invitee is the only member of your expected Opening Day bullpen not to end up on the disabled or restricted list, you’re not always going to have the ideal man out there.

There are always going to be moments where a manager makes a pitching change that you disagree with, but I don’t know how you can say that Mattingly has been below-average here.

Starting lineup: Mattingly hasn’t been afraid to start sitting the slumping James Loney or even acknowledge Andre Ethier’s struggles against lefties. I think he’d be even less afraid if he had alternatives. Except on occasional days, he has recognized that Jamey Carroll, on pace for 603 plate appearances this year, is about the best option he has in the infield.  Kids such as Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon have gotten trials – in Sands’ case, 144 plate appearances in under two months. The Dodgers don’t have an answer for the left-field question, but is that Mattingly’s fault? Juan Uribe has been terrible, but is that Mattingly’s fault? Casey Blake is aging and fragile, Rafael Furcal has disappeared … you get the idea. As with the bullpen, there’s stuff to quibble about, but I don’t know of any manager who could make this offense work.

One of the next tests for Mattingly will be how much he plays A.J. Ellis while Rod Barajas is out. But regardless of how well he does, does anyone think Ellis will be a difference-maker?

Motivation: Jackson reports that Mattingly held a team meeting after Saturday’s loss, the Dodgers’ fifth straight, all at home. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. writes that with that defeat, the 2011 Dodgers have matched the 1992 team for the worst 72-game start in Los Angeles Dodger history. All I can say is that one of the main arguments in Mattingly’s favor as manager was his ability to relate to players. What’s happening on the field isn’t pretty, but I’m not sure why we’d pick this moment, 2 1/2 months into his career, to decide that Mattingly is hopeless to motivate his players.

I’m sure there are some of you who will still be wondering where this piece is coming from, that see the Dodgers’ problems originating, as I do, from the people wearing the suits and sport coats, not the uniforms and caps. But all I can say is that there are those who have already lost patience with Mattingly. Perhaps someday we’ll find, as I considered a year ago, that he isn’t the best man for the job, but there’s no way you can base that decision on what’s happened in 2011.

* * *

Crazy one in Albuquerque on Saturday: Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner writes that the Isotopes had 13 consecutive batters reach base in the 11-run second inning of their 13-10 victory over Iowa, a game in which all 23 runs had scored by the middle of the fourth inning.

John Lindsey survived being hit by pitches twice in the single inning, only to leave the game after reaggravating a calf injury in the third.

Trayvon Robinson went 3 for 3 with two walks and has now reached base in eight consecutive plate appearances. Robinson has a .500 on-base percentage and .705 slugging percentage in June. Though he’s still averaging more than one strikeout per game, perhaps Robinson will be the next kid for Mattingly to play with.

Jun 10

Trayvon Robinson awaits chance to rush the Dodger fraternity


Harry How/Getty ImagesTrayvon Robinson

Any notion that the Dodgers were going to hold back on pushing young players to the big leagues this season was left sittin’ on the dock of the bay once Los Angeles promoted Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa and Dee Gordon ahead of schedule.

So it’s natural to ask if outfielder Trayvon Robinson will also get an early wakeup call. We know the Dodgers originally intended for Robinson to spend the season in the minors, but that was then. What about now?

Playing center field for Albuquerque, Robinson has a .341 on-base percentage and .519 slugging percentage this season, with 12 homers and seven steals in nine attempts. Outside of the baserunning, those numbers are considerably better than what Gordon had to offer when he took over major-league shortstop duties (for the time being), but they sit pretty far below what recently promoted Trent Oeltjen (.429/.583) was producing.

Few will argue that Oeltjen has a brighter future than Robinson, but in terms of the present, there wouldn’t appear to be an imperative to rush Robinson to the majors. The 23-year-old Robinson also has had some pretty significant plate discipline issues this season, with 17 walks against 64 strikeouts for the Isotopes.

Still, there are questions. We’re told that Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames will now platoon in left field, with Oeltjen mixing in as well, but it’s anything but clear that it’s a long-term arrangement. If none of them show anything with the bat, it’s going to be harder and harder to understand why Jamey Carroll (or even Aaron Miles, for all his weaknesses) should be sitting. That’s why I think you could ultimately see an infielder get some time in the outfield, whether it’s Casey Blake, Carroll or Miles.

And then again, maybe we’ll still see Robinson this summer. The Dodgers could have stuck with Carroll and Miles rather than turning to Gordon, whose abilities are still developing. There may be the sentiment that in the absence of thrilling alternatives, another kid will get his taste, even if it’s only for a few weeks.

Apr 24

Trayvon Robinson making his own case

Eric Risberg/APTrayvon Robinson

Hot starts from Dodger minor leaguers:

Trayvon Robinson, 23, OF, Albuquerque
63 plate appearances, .429 on-base percentage, .661 slugging percentage, four homers, six walks, 19 strikeouts

Jon Link, 27, RP, Albuquerque
12 1/3 innings, 16 baserunners, 10 strikeouts, 2.19 ERA

Bryan Cranston, 55, UT, Albuquerque
No stats, only video.

Corey Smith, 29, 3B, Chattanooga-Albuquerque
63 plate appearances, .397 on-base percentage, .483 slugging percentage, one homer, five walks, 10 strikeouts

Scott Van Slyke, 24, OF, Chattanooga
54 plate appearances, .463 on-base percentage, .830 slugging percentage, three homers, six walks, 10 strikeouts

Michael Antonini, 25, SP, Chattanooga
17 2/3 innings, 20 baserunners, 12 strikeouts, 1.53 ERA

Rubby De La Rosa, 22, SP, Chattanooga
15 1/3 innings, 20 baserunners, 19 strikeouts, 1.76 ERA

Nathan Eovaldi, 21, SP, Chattanooga
15 innings, 18 baserunners, 16 strikeouts, 1.20 ERA

Austin Gallagher, 22, 1B, Rancho Cucamonga
62 plate appearances, .468 on-base percentage, .632 slugging percentage, two homers, five walks, seven strikeouts

Gorman Erickson, 23, C, Rancho Cucamonga
49 plate appearances, .490 on-base percentage, .575 slugging percentage, no homers, nine walks, seven strikeouts

Steven Ames, 23, RP, Rancho Cucamonga
8 1/3 innings, seven baserunners, 15 strikeouts, 1.08 ERA

Jonathan Garcia, 19, OF, Great Lakes
65 plate appearances, .354 on-base percentage, .712 slugging percentage, six homers, five walks, 17 strikeouts

Garrett Gould, 19, SP, Great Lakes
17 innings, 14 baserunners, 12 strikeouts, 1.59 ERA

Zach Lee, 19, SP, Great Lakes
14 innings, 21 baserunners, 21 strikeouts, 1.29 ERA

Shawn Tolleson, 23, RP, Great Lakes
6 1/3 innings, seven baserunners, 16 strikeouts (out of 19 total outs), 0.00 ERA

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 21

More Dodger prospect ponderings

I’m growing increasingly numb to the various lists ranking Dodger prospects. My interest in the prospects themselves hasn’t waned, but more and more, the ordering of them seems to have been generated like letter-number combinations from a Bingo tumbler.

Here are two more lists, from Baseball America and from Fangraphs. As if to thumb their nose at my state of mind, both rank Dee Gordon and Zach Lee first and second, but for example, BA has Trayvon Robinson 10th, while Fangraphs has him third.

I think I just enjoy getting information about the players rather than worrying about what order they should be in. In that spirit, here’s one excerpt: BA’s Best Tools in the Dodger farm system. You can see why BA likes Gordon – errors aside, they rank him as the team’s best defensive infielder.

Best Hitter for Average: Dee Gordon
Best Power Hitter: Jerry Sands
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Justin Sellers
Fastest Baserunner: Dee Gordon
Best Athlete: Dee Gordon
Best Fastball: Kenley Jansen
Best Curveball: Chris Withrow
Best Slider: Scott Elbert
Best Changeup: Allen Webster
Best Control: Zach Lee
Best Defensive Catcher: Gorman Erickson
Best Defensive Infielder: Dee Gordon
Best Infield Arm: Pedro Baez
Best Defensive Outfielder: James Baldwin
Best Outfield Arm: Blake Smith

* * *

I’m finding the transformation of Dodger Stadium into a supercross arena fascinating, if not a little frightening. I really would be curious to see it for myself. In any case, Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News gives us a look and talks to Dodger Stadium head groundskeeper Eric Hansen about his fears.

Jan 17

Report: Dodgers agree to terms with Marcus Thames

Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireMarcus Thames

Adding to their collection of poor-defending but slugging outfielders, the Dodgers are poised to sign the guy who might be Jay Gibbons’ brother from another mother: Marcus Thames. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Thames, 34 in March and four days younger than Gibbons,  had a .350 on-base percentage and .491 slugging percentage against lefties last season, making him a potential platoon partner with Gibbons or Xavier Paul (only if the latter has a knockout Spring Training, it appears). Overall, Thames has an OPS of .802 in a career spent entirely in the American League. But Thames carries with him the baggage of being yet another left fielder that Dodger pitchers might be afraid of.

The Thames signing reduces the chances of the Dodgers resorting to games with Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll in the outfield. Whether the Tony Gwynn, Jr. plan B to realign the outfield is dead remains to be seen. Jamie Hoffmann has no chance of making the Opening Day roster now unless someone gets hurt.

Thames and Gibbons represent appealing bats off the bench — whether we want to see them each play 500 innings in the field this year is another story. But this definitely beats re-signing Scott Podsednik.

* * *

The Dodgers are taking negotiations with Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo and James Loney down to the wire, Jackson writes in a separate story.

With major league teams and arbitration-eligible players set to officially file salary figures on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers still haven’t reached agreement with any of their affected players — pitcher Chad Billingsley, reliever Hong-Chih Kuo and first baseman James Loney — but based on recent history, it appears highly unlikely that the club will end up going to a hearing with any of those players in early February.

In the decade that assistant general manager Kim Ng has been handling all the team’s arbitration cases, only two players have taken the Dodgers to a hearing. The club won both of those cases against pitchers Eric Gagne in 2004 and Joe Beimel in 2007, the victory over Gagne coming the winter after he won the National League Cy Young Award.

For now, Ng isn’t making any predictions.

“We will have a much better idea in the next 24 hours [after numbers are filed on Tuesday],” Ng said. “It’s moving. We’re progressing, but nothing is final yet.”

Ng did confirm that the club isn’t discussing a multiyear contract with either Billingsley, Kuo or Loney. All three are “four-plus” players, meaning they have between four and five years of major league service time, are arbitration-eligible for the second time and — barring a multiyear deal — will be arbitration-eligible again next winter. …

* * *

Trayvon Robinson is the subject of a really nice feature by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

As far back as any of his baseball coaches can remember, people noticed Trayvon Robinson. He had the skills, but not the polish; the raw tools, but not the savvy.

Anyone with a little vision could see what kind of player he could become. The question was whether that potential would develop and bloom one day.

Andre Green had coached baseball at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles long enough to recognize a talent such as Robinson’s early on. He’d also been around long enough to know all the things that could keep Robinson from developing into what he’s since become: one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top prospects.

Like many of Crenshaw’s top athletes in recent years, Robinson also played football before high school.

“He wanted to play football, and I just told him ‘No,’” Green said. “I said, ‘You’re a baseball man and you’re going to put Crenshaw on the map.’” …

Jan 05

Trayvon Robinson: How close is he?

The second in a series of at least two, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Trayvon Robinson
Vitals:
CF, switch-hitter, throws right, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, turned 23 on September 1.

Summary: Last year, at age 22, Robinson had a robust .404 on-base percentage to go with a .438 slugging percentage, nine home runs and 38 steals in 53 attempts for Double-A Chattanooga. The year before, in the more power-friendly environment of Single-A Inland Empire, Robinson had a .375/.500 with 15 homers and 43 steals in 61 attempts.

For comparison’s sake: Xavier Paul, considered a borderline contender to start in left in 2011, had a .366/.429 with 11 homers and 17 steals in 26 attempts in Double-A at age 22 in 2007. Paul reached the majors for the first time in mid-2009. And of course, by now you know how quickly Matt Kemp made it to the majors from AA.

Eye on excitement: Not only has Robinson shown speed, occasional power and the ability to hold down a fairly key defensive position, he’s making keen strides with his batting eye. His walk rate and walk/strikeout ratio has improved every year since 2007 according to Fangraphs, and as Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus just wrote, Robinson “turned into a walking machine after the All-Star break, drawing 32 free passes against just 117 at-bats as part of a .308/.464/.453 batting line.”

Sobering: Robinson struck out 125 times in Single-A in 2009 and 125 times in Double-A in 2010.

Quick and dirty conclusion: Jerry Sands, 27 days younger than Robinson, soared to the forefront among Dodger prospects last season, but it’s Robinson who not only might get the first call this year, he also might have the brighter future. Threatening to add a discerning batting eye to his other tools, Robinson is close to becoming the complete package.

Having completed a season and change in Double-A, Robinson should start the season in Albuquerque, and based on the patterns we’ve seen in recent years, a midseason promotion to the majors is a distinct possibility, especially if his walk rate continues to blossom. Dodger manager Don Mattingly described his satisfaction with Robinson during the Arizona Fall League in this interview with Jason Grey of ESPN.com. Though Mattingly said that Robinson would ideally spend all of 2011 in the minors to develop further, Los Angeles should get a taste of him by September, unless he stalls out or a veteran blocks him the way the acquisition of Manny Ramirez helped block Paul in late 2008.

And so although the Dodgers seem to have only two legitimate starting outfielders today, by season’s end, they might have two more ready from the farm system – or at least two a shade better than Paul.

Did you know? Robinson is the only player the Dodgers have ever drafted from Crenshaw High School? The Dodgers picked him in the 10th round in 2005, 25 years after the last Crenshaw grad to make the majors was taken: Darryl Strawberry.

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.

Oct 29

Dare we think positively about Dodger minor leaguers?

Folks are starting to wonder – perhaps for lack of a better solution elsewhere – whether the Dodgers might be able to help themselves from within next season.

In addition to Jerry Sands, there are signs of life from second baseman Ivan De Jesus, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. De Jesus, trying to recover from a somewhat disappointing 2010 (that followed his broken leg from 2009), is at least putting his best foot forward in the Arizona Fall League. Another infielder, Dee Gordon, is on a similar path – tearing it up in winter ball in Puerto Rico to the tune of 13 for 21.

Then there’s outfielder Trayvon Robinson, who is turning heads in the AFL – most notably the head of Dodger manager Don Mattingly, writes Jason Grey of ESPN.com. Robinson is actually coming off a fairly productive season – .404 on-base percentage (73 walks) – in the Double-A Southern League, where pitching is known to dominate. Mattingly has been impressed by Robinson’s development, though not surprisingly, the manager is hesitant about the idea of jumping the player straight to the majors from AA.

I don’t know that the Dodgers would or even should assume any of these four could start for the team next season, so I’d expect the front office to operate during the offseason as if they won’t. But if even one of these guys can step up by midseason, it would provide a big boost.