Nov 16

Kemp will be king, but there will be no Prince

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

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

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

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

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

  • Here’s a January 2008 ode to Ellis from my former Baseball Toaster compadre Ken Arneson.
  • New Dodger trainer Sue Falsone, interviewed by the Huffington Post, says the song that reminds her most of Los Angeles is “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but we’ll hold out hope for her success here anyway (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy).
  • Former Dodger outfielder Xavier Paul unknowingly got caught up in an Australian Baseball League scam, reports Alexis Brudnicki of Baseball America and Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
  • MLB.com also offered up its choices for top Dodger minor leaguers in 2011 by position. Compare them to the Dodger Thoughts Grain of Salt Midseason Minor-League All-Stars.
  • River Ave. Blues passes along a piece that shows that the value of the batting average statistic was being questioned 96 years ago.
  • In Tuesday’s mail, I received to my surprise (as a Los Angeles-based Hall of Fame non-voter) a 12-page full-color campaign brochure for Juan “Igor” Gonzalez’s Cooperstown candidacy. Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk rebuts the effort.
  • I was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles’ move in the 1990s to an ornithologically correct bird on its caps, in part because of the repeated use by sportswriters of the word “ornithologically.” I also thought it looked cool, so I’m a little disappointed to see them go back to the cartoon bird.
  • For your amusement/slash/horror: Life (the magazine, not the cereal) has chosen its 20 worst ever covers.
Oct 10

Remembering 2011: Xavier Paul


Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesXavier Paul (13)

The setup: In 2010, Paul missed an opportunity to help fill the Manny Ramirez void, managing only a .591 OPS in 133 major-league plate appearances (in contrast to his .963 OPS in Albuquerque). Out of options in 2011, Paul entered Spring Training with a chance to take playing time in left field away from Jay Gibbons, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames, but not a few of us thought he would end up being traded to Pittsburgh.

The closeup: We were way off. Paul wasn’t traded to Pittsburgh. He was designated for assignment and claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh. Despite going 3 for 7 during the season’s first week, Paul earned only four more plate appearances over the next week, each off the bench, and struck out all four times. On April 18, the Dodgers DFAed Paul to make room for the first coming of Jerry Sands.

With the Pirates, Paul went 2 for 4 in each of his first three starts and 6 for 7 in two games against the Mets to start the month of June, but in between those highlights, he was 3 for 27 with two walks and no extra-base hits. He ended up with a .293 on-base percentage and .349 slugging percentage for the Pirates in 251 plate appearances, to go with 16 stolen bases — not Hall of Fame stuff, but not too far off the offense Gwynn (.308/.353/22 in 340 plate appearances) provided the Dodgers, and at least more than Gibbons or Thames delivered.

Coming attractions: Paul, who made 41 starts in 2011 (with a .686 OPS, in contrast to a .253 OPS in 45 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter), will compete for a more regular role with the Pirates next season, or at least to remain on a major-league roster for an entire season for the first time.

Apr 26

Broxton’s status in turnaround

Making more front-page drive-in news is Jonathan Broxton. An excerpt follows, but be sure to read the full story on Broxton’s status from Tony Jackson at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Jonathan Broxton was told by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on Tuesday that he is still the team’s closer despite widespread media reports that the team had decided to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the wake of Broxton’s blown save on Monday night against the Florida Marlins.

Mattingly saw one of those media reports, on the MLB Network, while working out on Tuesday morning and immediately decided to meet with Broxton to reassure him that the job was still his. That closed-door meeting, which also included pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, took place in the visiting clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Dodgers played the Marlins. The Marlins scored three runs off Broxton after two were out and nobody was on base in the ninth inning on Monday night to beat the Dodgers 5-4.

“I’m the closer right now, so I just have to go out there and continue to throw,” Broxton said after the meeting. “I just have to turn the page. That is the big thing about closing or doing anything, setting up, relieving. You have to turn the page. … [Mattingly] said he liked what he has been seeing and that I’m throwing the ball good. I just have to get back to that attack mode, especially with two outs.”

Those media reports stemmed from comments Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made during his weekly radio interview on Tuesday morning with KABC’s Peter Tilden. Although Colletti never used the term “closer-by-committee,” he did mention the names of at least two other pitchers — Hong-Chih Kuo, who is on the disabled list but expected to return as early as Friday, and Vicente Padilla, who came off the disabled list on Friday and has since had one strong outing and one shaky one — as possible closer candidates.

“I can’t help but be concerned,” Colletti said when Tilden asked about Broxton. “I’m one of those people who are pretty much concerned about everything anyway. I am concerned about him. Hopefully, we will get Kuo back Friday, and Padilla has been back for a couple of games. Hopefully, we can give Donnie three choices or so at the end of a game and let him make up his mind by matchup or whatever until Broxton can get his confidence back and get settled.”

Contacted by ESPNLosAngeles.com, Colletti downplayed the implications of what he had told Tilden earlier in the day.

“I just said when we get Kuo back and Padilla back to 100 percent, it’s going to give Donnie some options, depending upon matchups and the previous day’s usage, things like that,” Colletti said. “But that doesn’t mean Broxton isn’t the closer.”

Both Mattingly and Honeycutt said Broxton wasn’t available to close on Tuesday night against the Marlins, but only because he had pitched each of the previous two games. …


Also, Jackson reports that Frank McCourt is meeting in New York on Thursday with MLB execs — but not commissioner Bud Selig.

Finally, Xavier Paul was claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh, where he’ll be a teammate of Brandon Wood, recently claimed from the Angels, and former Dodger James McDonald.

Apr 18

How close is Jerry Sands? He’s here

I think I might always remember the moment, or approximate moment, that Jerry Sands was called up by the Dodgers. I was having an extremely rare weekday afternoon margarita at one of our big family gatherings of the week, and looking around the table at my wife reunited with her family and my kids with their East Coast cousins. To make a long story short, I’ve been having a hard time feeling optimistic about some things, but as I breathed in the scene, I suddenly not only told myself I should be more positive, I actually believed that I could.

That sentiment, I knew, might last little longer than the margarita, but lo and behold, I came out of the restaurant a couple hours later, quickly checked e-mails on my cellphone and saw that the Dodgers had made what could be a similar, happily desperate declaration in promoting Sands.

Sands, whose name I also came to realize today reminds me more of a slacks-wearing pro chipping in on the 18th hole to win at Pebble Beach, takes the roster spot of Xavier Paul, whom the Dodgers designated for assignment, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes. That tradeoff in itself tells you the perils of placing faith in a minor leaguer to fill a gaping hole in the Dodger lineup. Paul was never a Dodger minor-league hitter of the year the way Sands was last year, but the guy had a fairly strong career in the Dodger farm system, only to go by the same wayside as (take your pick) Delwyn Young or Cody Ross.

So of course we keep our expectations of Sands as sober as I now find myself, especially on the on-base percentage side as he faces major-league pitching for the first time, less than a year out of Single-A ball. But his power nevertheless offers the possibility of something the Dodgers desperately need after cleanup hitter Matt Kemp: a threat. Until Juan Uribe and James Loney figure themselves out, why not Sands? It’s worth a shot, and even if he falls short, I expect the early exposure to the bigs will instruct more than it will harm.

What’s funny is as dramatic as this move might seem, we could see it coming months ago. From this winter’s “How close is he?” series:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see where Sands ends up ultimately. But tonight, I’m going to think positively. I could do worse.

Mar 16

State of the Opening Day roster: Update


Jake Roth/US PresswireDespite a 7.23 ERA last year with St. Louis, Mike MacDougal has taken advantage of Dodger injuries to carve out a chance at a roster spot.

On the last off day before the start of the season, this seems like a good time to check in on how the Dodger 25-man Opening Day roster is shaping up.

On track (18):

Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly

Relief pitchers (5): Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth, Kenley Jansen

Catchers (1): Rod Barajas

Infielders (4): James Loney, Juan Uribe, Rafael Furcal, Jamey Carroll

Outfielders (4): Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames

Likely (3):

1) Casey Blake, 3B: The latest news on Blake sounds about as good as one might have expected – inflammation with no evidence of a muscle strain.  So while anything could happen, we won’t assume that he’ll be on the disabled list March 31.

2) Mike MacDougal, RP: A 0.00 spring ERA, veteran’s moxie and all the positive things people are saying about him in the press make MacDougal this year’s most likely prize off the scrap heap.

3) Dioner Navarro, C: A.J. Ellis can still be optioned to the minors, so we’ll put him aside. Though Hector Gimenez presents an alternative, Navarro seems safe.

Roster spot battles (4):

Norm Hall/Getty ImagesAn .847 spring OPS has helped make Hector Gimenez a longshot as opposed to a no-shot.

1) Jay Gibbons vs. Xavier Paul vs. Trent Oeltjen, OF, vs. Hector Gimenez, C/1B: Gibbons’ spring has been a nightmare, to the extent that Tony Gwynn Jr. might already have passed him in the pecking order for playing time. Xavier Paul, seemingly healthy and performing better as the month goes on, is now adding to the pressure while the eyesight-plagued Gibbons tries to solve his vision problems. A third-party candidate is Trent Oeltjen, who has been hitting all spring – and we’ll even leave open the possibility that Gimenez could take this spot instead of a sixth outfielder.  Chances: Gibbons 45%, Paul 35%, Oeltjen 10%, Gimenez 10%.

2) Aaron Miles vs. Ivan De Jesus Jr. vs. Justin Sellers vs. Juan Castro, IF: A veteran has the automatic edge when you’re talking backup infielder, so it seems safe to knock out De Jesus and Sellers, neither of whom have seized the day. Miles has had a better spring than Castro and is also centuries younger. Castro has that Brad Ausmus-like zen quality that Ned Colletti admires, but Miles has sufficient experience to fill the role. Chances: Miles 80%, Castro 10%, De Jesus 5%, Sellers 5%.

3) + 4) Ron Mahay vs. Scott Elbert vs. Ramon Troncoso vs. Lance Cormier, RP, vs. John Ely vs. Tim Redding, SP, vs. position player: These two final spots seem very much up for grabs at this point, compounded by the uncertainty over whether the Dodgers will start the year with four or five starting pitchers, and whether they’ll start with 11 pitchers overall or 12.

If they keep a fifth starter, it’s still an open battle. Both Redding and Ely can be sent to the minors, though the difference is if Redding is placed on the major-league roster, he would then have to clear waivers before he could go to Albuquerque (once, say, Vicente Padilla or Jon Garland was healthy). The Dodgers can yank Ely up and down this year at will.

Both Ely and Redding started the spring excellently, then faltered (like every other Dodger starter in the past week). Ely is on the upside of his career but with something to prove; Redding is on the downside of his career with something to prove. My guess is that even if Ely wins the job, the Dodgers won’t want him to lose his rhythm by pitching in long relief during the opening days of the season – meaning he would start the season in the minors and then come up April 12 when he is needed. I’m not sure they’d have those reservations with Redding.

Among the lefthanders, Mahay finally had a decent inning Tuesday, though the four batters he faced had 19 career major-league homers. Still, it’s hard to imagine that, short of a 180-degree turnaround, the Dodgers are ready to rely on Elbert, who has walked nine of 20 batters he has faced this spring.

Troncoso has outpitched both lefties, though I’m not sure the Dodgers are convinced he’s all the way back from his 2010 struggles. If he were, he and MacDougal would exchange places. Lance Cormier has gotten little attention while throwing four innings and allowing seven hits while striking out one, but he remains in the running.

And then there’s the chance the Dodgers go with an 11-man staff and keep six guys on the bench. Gimenez, anyone?

If the Dodgers were making their final cuts today, I’d predict they keep two relievers at the outset and fly Ely to San Francisco on April 12. Chances: Troncoso 45%, Mahay 45%, Cormier 30%, Ely 30%, Redding 25%, position player 20%, Elbert 5%.

Mar 14

March Mudness


Rangers 5, Dodgers 4

Earl Pomerantz passes along this important lesson from Bill Cosby about panic.

… It’s the morning of the “table reading”, where the actors read the script out loud before the assembled production staff – fifty or so people – so we can see what’s working and what needs to be fixed. At this point, the actor who will play the freaked out father-to-be has not yet been hired. Dr. Cosby asks me to fill in for the missing actor and perform that part at the table reading.

I am immediately terrified.

Why? Well, in my own memorable words,

“What if I mess up?” (Though I may not have used the word “mess.”)

Dr. Cosby instantly replies to my exaggerated concern, and herein lies the life lesson,

“Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the first.” …

Highlights:

  • Trying to find his way onto the team, Xavier Paul sings “Let My Love Open the Door” with a single and a triple (to go with a caught stealing as a coda).
  • Trent Oeltjen sings “Don’t You Forget About Me.” His double raised his spring OPS to 1.044 before the eyes of the impressionable Dodger management.
  • Jamie Hoffmann warbles “I’ll Be There For You” with a double, boosting his OBP in the spring to .400.
  • Marcus Thames doesn’t need to sing for his Opening Day supper, but he just had his fifth double of the spring, in 25 at-bats.
  • Trayvon Robinson singled in two runs in the ninth inning as the Dodgers tried to rally and avoid their eighth straight loss.
  • Lance Cormier pitched a shutout sixth inning. Cormier’s chances of making the team remain alive, given the struggles of Scott Elbert and Ron Mahay.
  • John Ely threw four walkless innings, giving him 10 this spring.

Lowlights:

  • Overall, Ely continued the trend of faltering Dodger starters. After a perfect first inning that included strikeouts of Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton, Ely allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits, including a three-run Hamilton homer. Ely struck out three.
  • After allowing a two-out single, Elbert walked two in the fifth inning, escaping the bases-loaded jam on a deep flyout by David Murphy.
  • Kenley Jansen had a rough eighth, allowing a run on two hits and a walk.

Sidelights:

  • In a rare start against a frontline pitcher (Texas’ Neftali Feliz, who suddenly might be in the starting pitcher racket), Jerry Sands went 0 for 2.
  • Hector Gimenez had a double, then was doubled off second base on a ball hit by Gabe Kapler.
  • From The Associated Press: “Told that Ely was trying to locate an inside fastball off the plate that didn’t quite break far enough, Hamilton said smilingly, ‘Tell him thank you for me.’ “
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com writes about the upside of the San Diego Padres, post-Adrian Gonzalez.
  • Rob Neyer of SB Nation looks at how the Yankees’ starting pitching crisis.
  • Only three of 30 MLB general managers played in the majors, writes Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
  • At his blog, Former major-leaguer Morgan Ensberg hints at a harrowing story.
  • Mitchell Page, who passed away Saturday, is remembered at the Hardball Times by Bruce Markusen, who compares Page to Willie Davis.
  • This Jay Gibbons update from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com sounds a mixed note about the outfielder’s near-term future.

    … Gibbons underwent PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) surgery on the eye last fall as a follow-up procedure to the laser procedure he underwent in 2004. But a side effect of PRK is that it lengthens and flattens the cornea, which is why the contact — which Gibbons wasn’t sure he would need again after the original surgery — no longer fits as tightly as it should and tends to pop out.

    Gibbons said he was told he’d likely need a follow-up procedure after his initial laser surgery. “So that was pretty much what my thought process was, to get a tune-up, and [the vision] went south a little bit last year,” he said.

    The issues after the follow-up surgery, though, began almost immediately, causing Gibbons to return home from winter ball earlier than he planned. Gibbons and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sounded optimistic this doctor’s consultation would be sufficient to solve the problem. The Dodgers are off Wednesday, so the hope was Gibbons would miss only one day.

    “We need to get this resolved,” Mattingly said. “If your [vision] isn’t right on and you’re trying to hit a breaking ball, it’s just not going to work.” …

  • Last but certainly not least, the Dodgers are staging a drive-through charity effort at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday to benefit victims of the disaster in Japan.
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 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.

Dec 05

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


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

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

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

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

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

All that being said …

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Jul 29

Xavier Paul: Just seven numbers


Newly acquired Scott Podsednik has a .353 on-base percentage and .400 slugging percentage.

Newly marginalized Xavier Paul has a .298 on-base percentage and .339 slugging percentage.

If Paul had reached base seven more times in his 124 plate appearances this season and had seven more total bases in his 112 at-bats, he’d have surpassed Podsednik’s batting stats, going .355/.402. Seven more singles in those 112 at-bats would have accomplished both tasks.

This is a simplistic way to look at things, but I just find it interesting that the difference between the two is so slim. But for seven singles, Podsednik would offer no advantage in the batter’s box, and despite whatever other attributes he offers, I’m guessing the Dodgers don’t trade for him.

Jul 08

Kershaw LXIX: Kershallow Grave

Joe Torre told reporters today …

  • He had no news on Ronald Belisario.
  • Manny Ramirez is scheduled for a rehab game with Inland Empire on Saturday and remains on target for a July 15 return to the Dodgers.
  • AA reliever Kenley Jansen has entered the Dodgers’ major-league conversation, and it won’t be a surprise to see him in Los Angeles this year, though perhaps not until rosters expand in September.

In other news …

  • Scott Elbert is back in Arizona, “playing catch,” according to Dodger coach Ken Howell. No date set for his return to action.
  • Brad Ausmus began his minor-league rehab assignment Wednesday with Inland Empire. Expect to see his back back in a Dodger uniform by August.
  • Roy Oswalt bumped up the trade-valueometer today with a one-hitter against Pittsburgh. Oswalt, who walked two and struck out eight, needs to get one victory to tie Joe Niekro and two to pass him for Houston’s all-time lead in pitching victories.
  • Former Angel (and perhaps surprisingly, not current Dodger) Darin Erstad has returned to his Nebraska alma mater, as a hitting coach, according to The Associated Press.
  • The notion of taking a flyer on injured former star pitchers with upside has taken a beating this year, writes Dave Cameron at Fangraphs.
  • Matt Stairs on Wednesday tied the all-time record for pinch-hit home runs, writes Greg Rosenstein of MLB.com (via Aaron Gleeman at Hardball Talk). Not counting the postseason, in case you were wondering.
  • Yes, Mike Stanton’s killer three-run homer Thursday really was caught by a Dodger glove, as David Brown of Big League Stew points out. And yes, you need to watch Garret Anderson’s reaction on the clip linked from there.
  • My favorite piece of trivia today: The all-time leader in Emmy nominations is now camera operator Hector Ramirez. I talked to Ramirez this morning for the Variety On the Air TV blog.
  • I hated Shallow Grave, by the way …
Jul 04

Xavier Paul should stay for remainder of season


Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesXavier Paul slides home in the fifth inning Saturday.

This is not a news flash. But when Manny Ramirez returns from the disabled list, the Dodgers should bid farewell to Garret Anderson.

It’s not just that in 133 plate appearances, Anderson has an on-base percentage of .205 and slugging percentage of .291. It’s not just his negative value defensively, on a team that could use defense from its backup outfielder.

It’s that even being optimistic about Anderson, what he’s capable of is not what Xavier Paul is capable of. Or, for that matter, Paul’s recent Albuquerque teammate Jay Gibbons.

Anderson has walked three times all season. Three times. So even if he gets luckier with some balls in play dropping in, there’s little hope for a dramatic rise in his poor OBP. And his slugging percentage has maxed out at about .400 since 2009. That’s not enough value for a guy who can’t field.

No doubt Joe Torre is expecting all this non-production will be worth it when Anderson has a key RBI single in the postseason. The problem with that theory is that 1) Anderson might, in his own small way, keep the Dodgers from reaching the postseason, and 2) it’s a canard that you need a veteran to come through off the bench in the playoffs.

As I pointed out before the season, older is not necessarily better for bench players. By far, the majority of over-35 bench players for the Dodgers have hit poorly. And Anderson has hit worse than almost all of them.

Mark Loretta’s hit in Game 2 of last year’s National League Division Series was memorable, but that didn’t mean Loretta was a good player for the Dodgers to have. If the Dodgers can do better, they should. And Paul is an example of better. Paul already has more walks than Anderson and nearly as many hits and extra-base hits despite playing half the time, plus better speed and defense. And he, unlike Anderson, has real potential to improve.

If it’s leadership you want from Anderson, make him a coach, or make use of the countless other former major-leaguers that are already on staff with the Dodgers.

The common argument against keeping Paul is that, as a potential 2011 starter for the Dodgers, he should be playing regularly this year. But Paul really has spent enough time playing at AAA, racking up more than 800 plate appearances there since 2008 and showing improvement each of the past three seasons. His injuries put up a roadblock last season, but he has recovered impressively. His OPS is over 1.000 with the Isotopes, outstanding even by their standards.

As far as his future development goes, I’m struggling to see how copying Blake DeWitt’s frequent-flyer service between Albuquerque and Los Angeles from last year is a better use of Paul’s time than letting him steadily grow comfortable in a major-league clubhouse, learning about the game’s top pitchers and becoming tested in key situations.

It’s not as if Paul will never play. Given the rest the Dodgers want to give Ramirez even when he’s healthy, Paul could easily amass another 150 plate appearances if he stays with the big club through the end of the season. That would give him more than 400 for the season. That’s plenty for a player who has mastered AAA pitching.

Put it this way: If there’s going to be a Dodger backup outfielder with a .500 OPS, I’d rather it be someone having a learning experience. Better that than the slow, painful fadeout of a once-great player.

* * *

The Dodgers said today that they expect to activate Carlos Monasterios from the disabled list in the middle of this week. Monasterios is done pitching rehab outings for Albuquerque.

The Isotopes released Jesus Colome from their roster, according to the team press notes. The former major-leaguer had a scoreless inning, then gave up five runs to his next six batters.

* * *

For the second time this season, a team has designated Dontrelle Willis for assignment shortly after he got hit hard by the Dodgers. Los Angeles scored seven runs off him in 6 1/3 innings while he pitched for Detroit and Arizona.

* * *

Clayton Kershaw is … ‘Lost’.

Jul 03

Manny Ramirez to DL, Ramon Troncoso to Albuquerque

The Dodgers not only placed Manny Ramirez on the disabled list and called up Xavier Paul, they also optioned Ramon Troncoso to Albuquerque and called up Travis Schlichting.

The first move was expected, and the second move isn’t too much of a surprise considering that Troncoso has seemed in need of a breather for a while now. Troncoso pitched two shutout innings Friday (32 pitches) and has not been scored upon in his past three appearances, so his being optioned might have more to do with providing a fresh arm to the bullpen following Hiroki Kuroda’s early exit.

George Sherrill and Justin Miller, who have performed worse, remain on the team for now, because Troncoso has options and they don’t.

* * *

  • Claudio Vargas pitched six shutout innings for Albuquerque against Pacific Coast League South Division leader Oklahoma City on Friday, allowing two baserunners and striking out seven batters in a row at one point.
  • Blake Smith, a 22-year-old right fielder, went 4 for 6 with six RBI and one of the Loons’ four homers in Great Lakes’ 13-3 victory. Smith has an .858 OPS on the season. Catcher J.T. Wise, 24, had four hits and a walk. Josh Wall struck out 10 in seven innings.
  • Minor-league reliever Hyang-Nam Choi, 39, was released from the Albuquerque roster last weekend, according to the Isotope press notes.
  • Pinch-hitter in the making? Josh Lindblom is 6 for 14 at the plate this season for Albuquerque and 10 for 25 over the past two seasons with a walk and five strikeouts.