Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Other teams (Page 3 of 5)

Incoming TV money explains Pujols signing

It could have been the Dodgers making the big news today.  And someday, it will be.

But for now, it’s all Angels.

On Thursday, the Dodgers continue their participation in a bankruptcy court hearing with Fox, a hearing largely focused on how to maximize the value of the baseball team. While that is going on, the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson — and just like that, the team from Anaheim seems to have written the book on how to maximize franchise value.

The commitment the Angels are making to the 31-year-old Pujols is, for those of us who live in the real world, insane. Ten years, $250 million-plus and all the fringe benefits I suspect you can name. It’s an incredible amount of money.

But the reason the Angels are able to make such a long-term splurge relates to the same reason that Dodgers fans should have hope for the franchise after all the courtroom drama is over. The TV money coming into the Southern California baseball market, whether from Fox Sports or its newly emerging rival, Time Warner Cable, is out of this world.

As Richard Sandomir recently wrote in The New York Times, the Dodgers’ current TV rights deal with Fox calls for just less than $40 million in its final year, 2013.  In the next contract, the annual payment the Dodgers receive in TV revenue is expected to be, at the bare minimum, $150 million, and quite possibly will go north of $200 million.  Sandomir even calculates that $300 million per year is a believable figure when all the bidding is done.

I’m not one to use the word “game-changer” frequently, but that’s a game-changer.

There are two principal reasons for the soaring dollars. Live sports has become invaluable programming for broadcasters in a DVR age that has brought declining ratings to conventional TV programming. And as I wrote for Variety this week, with TWC taking the Lakers from Fox to start new cable channels dedicated to the NBA team, the Dodgers are more valuable because of the need to fill the cable programming schedules in the summer months.

What’s relevant to Thursday’s signings is that the Angels are hardly being left out of the TV party. The Los Angeles Times reported in October that the Angels were close to negotiating an extension of their current TV deal with Fox, one that already stood to pay them more than the $80 million per year that Fox agreed to pay the Texas Rangers last year. Although you wouldn’t have assumed the Angels would get quite what the Dodgers could count on, the marquee value of Pujols — the equivalent of signing a saner, younger Manny Ramirez — certainly will help. You can make a direct argument that the appeal of Pujols and his effect in boosting the Angels’ win total will only help the team draw more TV money as negotiations are finalized.

When you consider the probability that the Angels will be getting more than $1 billion from Fox over the life of Pujols’ contract, then absorbing those final $25 million-a-year seasons or whatever they are, even after he’s over-the-hill, doesn’t seem so vexing. Pujols is sponge-worthy, and the Angels are going to have a lot of sponges.

That the Dodgers know they have the same revenue potential, if not more, reminds us how easily the team could have been a major player in this winter’s free-agent market. Heck, even under a normal budget, we already knew the Dodgers could have figured out a way to afford Prince Fielder (probably a better fit for the team than Pujols because he’s younger and not demanding a 10-year deal).

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. reiterated the point this week. If you combine the salaries of Aaron Harang, Juan Rivera, Chris Capuano, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr. and James Loney, you would basically have the money to sign Fielder and a starting pitcher. Then you play bargain ball at second base, and you still probably have a better team than what the Dodgers will put out in 2012.

Factor in the Dodgers’ post-2013 TV money and a new owner with deeper pockets, which will come regardless of how the current bankruptcy hearing plays out, and it’s really no sweat. A contract the size of the one Pujols is getting makes me uncomfortable — except when I remind myself just how different the financial landscape will be for the Dodgers in the coming years.

Nothing the Angels did Thursday guarantees them a World Series title — and more often than not during the next 10 years, the team that does win the Series will not be Pujols’ team. My point is not that the Pujols signing is a great one, but that it’s a feasible one. Over the life of the contract, taking into account both his peaks and his valleys, Pujols should make the Angels a better contender for titles and TV viewers.  Even at Pujols’ astronomical salary, the Angels’ risk-reward ratio is a solid one. Adding Wilson to the party only underscores this point.

And it serves as a reminder that anyone looking to acquire the Dodgers or their TV rights would be more confident in doing so knowing that Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and a player of Pujols’ or Fielder’s caliber is in place. (And hey, Fielder is still out there …)

So take heart, Dodgers fans. Frank McCourt is still selling, and the TV dough is still coming. This time next year, the Dodgers should be in the money, and we’ll have to worry (sigh) only about whether they’re spending it wisely.

Manny happy returns?

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

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

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

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

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

The bitter kiss of a near-miss

Tonight, the football regular season ended for my biggest rooting interest, non-Dodger division: Stanford. Like the last time I pulled thus hard for a legitimate national title contender, the 2009 Dodgers, it began as a superb experience that ultimately turned frustrating, with a dose of thanks-for-the-memories perspective required to make sure I didn’t lose the forest for the Trees.

The first half of the season was incredible. Stanford would make mistakes here and there that would leave you briefly questioning its adequacy, and then you’d look up and the Cardinal would be up by 40. You’d remember that you don’t need to be perfect every play to be, essentially, perfect.

Then some injuries came, and some weaknesses were exposed, and Stanford spent the past month looking beatable, losing one critical game out of 12 when it could afford to lose none. Andrew Luck, the pole position 2011 Heisman Trophy candidate when the race began, suffered from having mediocre wide receivers but also was good for at least one really headscratchingly disastrous throw a game. Brent Musberger, who called several Cardinal games this season, would quickly minimize the interceptions to resume raising the roof of praise on Luck to Derek Jeter- like levels that — taking nothing away from Luck’s present and future greatness — made me a little uncomfortable.

Stanford won’t win the national title, and Luck might not win the Heisman. In the case of the former, it would have been fun and preferable to the BCS to see the Cardinal in a playoff, especially with some healed players, but the team would have been an underdog by the time it reached a semifinal (unlike a year ago, when Stanford was truly playing as well as any team in the nation at season’s end). I don’t feel cheated. As for Luck, he’s great and still a worthy contender, but if he doesn’t win the Heisman, I think I’d still feel worse that Toby Gerhart didn’t win two years ago. Neither statistically nor subjectively does Luck strike me as an automatic.

Expectations are mean, and I’m better to be rid of them. Much more than the Dodgers, success has been rare for Stanford football in my lifetime (and at this level unprecedented), and the journey of this team from 1-11 five years ago, through the big victories over USC, to the nearly dominant team of today had been an exquisite joyride. 

But right now, the disappointment with Stanford’s close call this season still lingers, to the extent that it’s easier for me to think right now about those ’09 Dodgers and their season turned on an ill-fated Jonathan Broxton pitch than the ’11 Cardinal. And though I don’t think Stanford will return immediately to its losing ways, the Dodgers should smell a title before the Cardinal does again.

Without a doubt, I feel good about having had near-miss teams to root for, but it’s no substitute for feeling great. 

State of the Angels

This isn’t Dodger-related, but I can’t imagine too many Dodger fans wouldn’t find this interview by Jim Bowden for ESPNLosAngeles.com of new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto interesting.

An excerpt:

Bowden: Going into Spring Training will the Angels outfield be Torii Hunter in right field, Peter Bourjos in center field and Mike Trout in left field?

Dipoto: Right now it’s Hunter in right field, Bourjos in center field and Vernon Wells in left field. Trout will need to play his way on to the team. I know one thing, he’s going to play every day, and if it’s not in the major leagues then it will be in our farm system. Wells deserves a chance to bounce back. Throughout his career he has a history of bouncing back the year after he’s had a down year. Wells needs to be protected. That being said, we’ll play the best three outfielders on opening and if Mike Trout is one of those three, we won’t hold him back. …

Bowden: Hank Conger hasn’t been given a chance to be the everyday catcher despite many baseball people feeling that he could be the long-term answer. Are you going to give him a chance?

Dipoto: Conger needs to get out on the field and play with nicks and bruises. He can hit from the left side and is a good offensive catcher. Defensively, when he gets in a rhythm, he show he can do it. He deserves a chance to play every day and get the reps to find out what he can accomplish. It’s also understandable why Mike Scioscia has rotated the catchers, especially when you get such a special defensive player like Jeff Mathis. However, I want to upgrade our offense and ability to get on-base, and this is one of multiple positions where we have to find a way to improve our OBP.

Bowden: The Angels have been a poor OBP team in general the past few years. Are you going to address this deficiency?

Dipoto: Yes. The changes have to start at the grass-roots level in player development. I do respect and admire the Angels’ aggressive style of play on the bases and in the batter’s box, but going forward, we will see a shift on the roster with players that get on base more. The question is if on-base percentage is something a player is born with or a learned trait and that can be argued, but bottom line is we need to improve in that area at all levels. …

What’s so funny about … you know

The day began when Young Master Weisman came out of his bedroom at 6:30 a.m. on this, his seventh birthday. I called him over to me, and he gave me, well, he gave me a hug that was the biggest, longest hug any of my children has ever given me.

I would say that roughly 75 percent of that hug was pure excitement about his birthday, but you know, I think maybe a quarter of it had something to do with me. And I’ll take that combination. It felt really, really good. Just the fact that he was that purely happy … I’ll take it.

Then I learned that Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods became a father. It was on July 30, the same birthday as baseball’s youngiest youngster, Joe Nuxhall. How absolutely great.

That brings me to Grant Brisbee’s piece for Baseball Nation today. Brisbee, some of you know, runs San Francisco Giants blog McCovey Chronicles. He happens to be one of the best, funniest and most imaginative and insightful baseball writers around, in any medium. And today, he wrote a very nice column entitled, “The Los Angeles Dodgers Are Not Having A Good Season.”

As a Giants fan growing up in the ’80s, I went to baseball games in a concrete abomination known as Candlestick Park. The Dodgers had a quaint and airy ballpark. I stuffed tauntaun blubber down my jacket to stay warm during the day games. Dodgers fans wore short-sleeve shirts to the ballpark at night. I watched a team lose year after year. The Dodgers won every year. When the Giants did win something, it would be immediately followed by a sharp, piercing playoff exit. When the Dodgers made the playoffs, they’d skip through and win the World Series.

So the dislike is true and pure, forged in the fires of youthful resentment and envy. Not a fan of the Dodgers. And I figured if they ever became the 1899 Cleveland Spiders — earning every bit of a 20-134 record — it would be delightful. When the McCourt madness started happening, it was somewhat amusing. When Selig took financial control of the Dodgers, it was hilarious. And then there were allllll those losses. The German word for taking pleasure in the suffering of others is schadenfreude, and this season has been the freudiest.

At this point, though: enough. We get it.

The tipping point was Rubby De La Rosa needing Tommy John surgery. Fans of under-.500 teams are people too. They have certain rights — things you can’t take away. And the most important, inalienable right of the fan of a bad team is the right to watch a top prospect’s rookie season. The Royals, for example, have stunned the world by not contending, but every Royals fan in the world can turn on a TV and watch Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy and Mike Moustakas play. The performances are up and down, but that’s not the point. The point is that they can watch a bad team and project how the prospects will be responsible for the eventual turnaround.

De La Rosa came up and featured a right-handed repertoire that the Dodgers hadn’t seen from one of their young pitchers since the days of Eric Gagne. And then as quickly as he was up, he was gone in a puff of smoke.

That’s not right. I know I’m supposed to be a partisan fan of a team in a historic rivalry … but, come on … really, when Rubby went down … that’s too much.

The reaction some would say I should have to this is horror. A Giants fan taking pity on us — can things sink any lower?

But that’s not me. I’m glad when someone understands, when someone extends me a hand instead of kicking me when I’m down. That’s the way the world should be.

Giants fans want to win. Dodger fans want to win.  Those are two missions forever in conflict.  But there are moments, such as when Giants and Dodger fans joined forces to condemn the Bryan Stow violence, when our shared humanity — not to mention some “There but for the grace” knowledge — transcends our differences. And I don’t care how trite that sounds — I’m a flat-out sucker for it.

Happy birthday, my boy.

Gap between Martin and Barajas is narrowing

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Vin Scully will stick to radio on Opening Day

Often when the Dodgers head into the national TV spotlight, such as the playoffs, the question comes up: Why not pass the microphone to Vin Scully?  Even for an inning, we know that there are tons of people across the country who would enjoy hearing him broadcast, and the world could certainly survive for three or six outs without the usual ESPN, Fox or Turner crew.

Kirby Lee/US PresswireVin Scully reacts after throwing out the first pitch before the 2009 Opening Day game against the Giants.

Anyway, I asked an ESPN spokesperson to find out if such a move was being considered for the network’s Opening Day broadcast of the Dodgers against the Giants, and the answer was no. In general, it seemed like a longshot, and in particular, I was told, ESPN is focusing on introducing its new Sunday Night Baseball broadcasting team of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine, all of whom will be handling the March 31 game.

I have no idea if Scully is even willing to lend himself to the national broadcast, but I still think it’s a good idea at some point, and hopefully sooner than later. In any case, Scully will be heard on the radio on Opening Day this year.

* * *

By the way, some of you might remember when the Dodgers were accused of standing in the way (not without justification) of ESPN moving that Opening Day game from Los Angeles to San Francisco, so that the network could broadcast the Giants’ banner-raising celebration as part of the whole show. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle now reports that Giants players had just as much of a part in saying no as the Dodgers.

… The schedule called for a four-game opening series in Los Angeles. ESPN wanted to move the first game to AT&T Park on March 31. The teams then would have flown to Los Angeles and played the final three.

“The schedule didn’t seem like everything would work out right,” Giants union representative Matt Cain said. “It’s a short flight, but that’s a lot of traveling so early.”

Feeney said the collective bargaining agreement allows for one-game series in two instances: rainout makeups and Opening Day. The Dodgers did not like the idea of moving the opener to San Francisco, logistically but also on principle.

“They really didn’t want it,” Feeney said, “but Major League Baseball could have told the Dodgers, if the players approved, it was going to happen.” …

Link via Bill Shaikin of the Times. And since we’re on the subject of the Dodgers and the Giants, here’s an on-target “Honeymooners” clip passed along by Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven.

* * *

Signing Cliff Lee gave the Phillies a great starting rotation, but it did not ward off the injury bug. Not only has Philadelphia lost Dominic Brown (who was slated to replace Jayson Werth in right field) to a broken hand, but star second baseman Chase Utley has a worrisome right knee.

Top alternatives for the Phillies at the keystone sack include ex-Dodgers Wilson Valdez and Delwyn Young, writes Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Looking back on a quake-free year in San Francisco

With Giants righty Matt Cain having to rest an inflamed elbow, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles uses the occasion to marvel at San Francisco’s 2010:

It’s tough to explain now. The Giants won it all. It’s hard to go back and rediscover that sense of urgency. What were we all worried about? The trick is to start the season with a garbage offense, and then a) hope that a journeyman minor league free agent turns into vintage Carlos Beltran, b) count on a rookie catcher to come up and propel the offense for a month, and c) scour the waiver wire in case there are teams in Florida giving away productive outfielders. It turns out we were just being paranoid.

But when you hear this

“(Cain) has not thrown a baseball since he came down with elbow inflammation on Sunday, making it seem unlikely he will miss only one turn in the rotation. At the same time, he seems totally unconcerned about what he confessed is the first elbow issue of his career.”

… you remember why there was urgency in the first place. The Giants were built around young pitching. Young pitching is beautiful, like, oh, a shiny idol made of solid gold. But while you stand there, mouth agape, marveling at the golden treasure, you hear the boulder. The boulder isn’t evil. It’s just obeying the laws of physics. And it’s going to crush you. It’s going to crush you real dead-like. …

And when I hear that Matt Cain’s elbow is barking, it makes me appreciate just how danged fortunate the Giants and their fans all were. The Giants made it through an entire season with four young starting pitchers, and there weren’t any injury concerns. They didn’t have to recall Todd Wellemeyer. They didn’t have to shoehorn in Henry Sosa for a start or two. The young pitchers were good, and they were healthy. …

It was special. Never take it for granted.

* * *

Alex Belth of Bronx Banter passes along Duke Snider stories from oldtime scribes Roger Angell and Dick Young.

* * *

There will be a $1 Dodger Dog day at Dodger Stadium on May 30 when the Rockies play.

* * *

This morning, the Dodgers played a ‘B’ game in which Ted Lilly made his first spring appearance, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes. And as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes, Lilly’s relief crew included three former No. 1 picks – Zach Lee, Ethan Martin and Aaron Miller – whose signing bonuses alone totaled nearly $8 million. Lee was the only one of the trio to allow a run.

Later on, the Dodgers have their first night game of Spring Training …

Dodgers at Reds, 6:05 p.m.

Could the Giants be even better in 2011?

While determining who will succeed Rob Neyer in his national blogging spot at ESPN.com, members of the Sweet Spot blogging network are rotating through the mix. Today is my day, and I’m starting things off with … a post about the Giants.

Even the best teams usually need a lot of things to go their way to win the World Series, a run of good luck that can come to an abrupt end the following season, especially if you stand pat.

The San Francisco Giants mostly bring back the same team that won the title last fall. Although they no doubt peaked at the right time, there’s actually room for improvement from some key personnel. …

It could go either way for San Francisco, with health perhaps emerging as the biggest factor. Discussion of the Giants still begins with the pitching staff, but the rise of Buster Posey, the possible leap forward of Brandon Belt and the enigma that is Pablo Sandoval have made them much more interesting to me than in past years.

Postseason pitching punishment

Most teams that reach the World Series suffer a falloff in team ERA the following year, writes Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com. Whether the defending champion San Francisco Giants will succumb to the trend, however, remains to be seen.

… We looked at the World Series participants in the past 10 years, and the effect on the pitching staffs the following seasons to those 20 teams. Fourteen of the 20 — 70 percent — had an ERA increase the next season. Eight of the 20 — 40 percent — had an increase of least a half run, which is substantial. The 10 teams that won the World Series averaged an increase in ERA of .281. The 10 losing teams averaged an increase of .213. The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2006 and compiled a 3.84 ERA, but had a 4.57 ERA the next year, a .73 increase. The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series and had a 3.57 ERA, but it increased by 1.08 to 4.65 in 2007. The Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005; their team ERA the next year went from 3.61 to 4.61. …

There could be a number of reasons for an ERA increase the year after making it to the World Series. A bigger workload would represent only one of them. Some staffs are damaged by a loss in free agency (Cliff Lee?), or a trade. The ERA for the 2007 Cardinals increased dramatically in part because ace Chris Carpenter missed the season due to an arm injury.

“I believe our ERA went up in 2009 [by .53] because of an ineffective bullpen,” Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. “When the phone rang down there that year, no one knew who it was for. [Workload] is an issue, but I’d be interested to see about the teams that have been there [the World Series] over and over again, what that does to the ERA the next year. When we made it in 2008, it was the first time for most guys. If the Rays had made it in 2010, we would have been better off because we had been through it once.” …

The Giants and Rangers will need to recover. The Giants played 15 postseason games, a total of 135 innings. Ace Tim Lincecum threw 37 innings in the postseason, raising his season total to 249 1/3, a career high and 22 1/3 more innings than he had ever thrown in a season. Matt Cain pitched 21 1/3 innings in the playoffs, raising his total to 244 2/3, 27 more than he had ever thrown. Jonathan Sanchez threw 20 innings in the postseason, raising his total for the season to 213 1/3, 50 more than he had ever thrown. Madison Bumgarner pitched 20 2/3 innings in the playoffs, raising his total (major and minor leagues) to 214 1/3, 72 more than he had ever thrown in a season. And closer Brian Wilson appeared in 10 games in the postseason, totaling 80 for the season, 12 more than his career high. …

ERA changes for the Dodgers after their most recent World Series appearances:

1988: 2.96 ERA, 114 ERA+
1989: 2.95 ERA, 117 ERA+

1981: 3.01 ERA, 112 ERA+
1982: 3.26 ERA, 107 ERA+

Should we envy the Kansas City Royals?

Matt Meyers of ESPN Insider notes that while the Royals may have the No. 1 farm system in baseball, they might not even win 60 games this season. That’s in part because of trading players like Zack Greinke to boost their future.

As Dodger fans, would you be willing to live through a 100-loss campaign if you had these kinds of hopes for the talent coming up from the system?

On the one hand, it was not long ago that the Dodgers had this kind of talent coming up, when names like Billingsley, Kershaw, Martin and Kemp were all new, and you can see that’s no guarantee of a World Series title. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for having another crack at it.

I’d vote for keeping things the way they are, not because I’m afraid of one 100-loss season, but because I don’t think the potential of the current Blue Crew is tapped out.

The 2011 National League West: A first look


Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesIn 2011, Juan Uribe will be trying to bring at least a division title south to Los Angeles from San Francisco.

With so much attention locally focused on what the Dodgers are or aren’t doing, it’s easy to lose perspective of where they stand relative to their rivals in the National League West. Realizing that we all have higher goals than a division title, let’s nonetheless check in on the coming division race and see where the competition stands heading into spring training.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Brad Mangin/MLB Photos/Getty Images
Justin Upton

On Aug. 30, 2008, Arizona hosted the Dodgers with a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL West and the combination of Dan Haren and Brandon Webb starting the next two games. Since that moment, the Diamondbacks have gone 152-204 and have been by far the worst team in the division. Arizona had a flat-out ugly 2010, finishing 65-97, 15 games behind the fourth-place Dodgers and 27 behind the division-winning Giants. The offense was mediocre, punctuated by 9.4 strikeouts per game. The pitching was worse, with an adjusted ERA of 89 (100 being average) that was 14th in the National League.

Hopes for a turnaround in 2011 are pretty limited, based on an offseason that has only brought names the caliber of Henry Blanco, Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, Zach Duke, Aaron Heilman, Melvin Mora, Xavier Nady, Willy Mo Pena and J.J. Putz. Plus, at least last year they had Haren (and Edwin Jackson) for more than half a season, not to mention 57 homers (and 383 strikeouts) from departed corner infielders Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche.

Putz, though he’s about to turn 34, should help last year’s disastrous bullpen, and at age 23, Justin Upton (like his Bison-like counterpart in Los Angeles), could easily bounce back from the setbacks of last season, when his OPS dropped from .899 to .799. Daniel Hudson, acquired at midseason, will try to build upon his 11-start, 1.69-ERA debut. But overall, it’s going to take more than strategically placed eyeblack to make Kirk Gibson a winning manager in his first full season at the helm.

Colorado Rockies

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Troy Tulowitzki

A popular pick to win the NL West entering the 2010 season following their spirited near-miss in 2009, Colorado fell out of the lead on the second day of the season and never returned. They did make a late charge, pulling within a game of the division lead after making up 10 games in the standings in 26 days, capped by a 12-2 thumping of the Dodgers on Sept. 18. They then took a 6-1 second-inning lead against Clayton Kershaw the next afternoon. But if you’ll recall, the Dodgers rallied to win that game in 11 innings, handing the Rockies the first of a stunning 13 losses in their final 14 games of 2010.

That tailspin doesn’t rule out a pennant pursuit in Denver this year. The Rockies return four budding stars in Troy Tulowitzki (26), Carlos Gonzalez (25), Ubaldo Jimenez (27) and Jhoulys Chacin (23, with a second-half ERA of 2.44 and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings) and complements in Dexter Fowler (25 in March) and Ian Stewart (26 in April). But you also haven’t had much of an offseason when your biggest acquisitions are arguably infielders Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez.

This is a team that will contend for the division title, and Rockies management has enough faith in it that their main expenditures, at least thus far, were to richly extend the contracts of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez rather than bring in big outside talent. That might well be the right strategy, especially if last year’s stretch crawl was a fluke, but with 37-year-old Todd Helton at first base and question marks elsewhere, Colorado didn’t make itself an obvious favorite this time around.

San Diego Padres

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Mat Latos

Last year’s guide against wasting your time making predictions, San Diego sat in first place at the end of April, May, June, July and August. Then came the Giants, but even so, the Padres had a chance to tie San Francisco in the 162nd game of the season.

So San Diego was the big surprise team — with Adrian Gonzalez. Can it be without him? Unlike Colorado, San Diego will have lots of new faces, potentially starting Brad Hawpe at first, Orlando Hudson at second, Jason Bartlett at shortstop and Cameron Maybin in center field, almost making July 31 pickup Ryan Ludwick seem like an old-timer. Meanwhile, ex-Cincinnati Red pitcher Aaron Harang will try to help returning starting pitchers Clayton Richard, Wade LeBlanc and most importantly, 23-year-old Mat Latos (2.92 ERA in 2010) absorb the losses of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia.

I’m not going to be the one to argue that the Padres will be better in 2011 after trading Gonzalez for three minor-leaguers and outfielder Eric Patterson (.652 OPS in 179 career games), or that they’ll maintain any of their 10-game advantage over the Dodgers. But I’m also not ready to say they won’t be a thorn in the Dodgers’ side.

San Francisco Giants

Rich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty Images
Buster Posey

Seven-and-a-half games out of first place and one game over .500 at the midpoint of the 2010 season, San Francisco went 51-30 in the second half to rally to the title and start what I think can objectively be said was a surprising postseason stomp to the World Series title. The Giants went 9-3 against the fading Dodgers in the second half to emphasize their superiority.

Are they still superior? To date, their lone offseason addition of note has been to sign Miguel Tejada (36 in May), and that effectively only supplants the loss of Juan Uribe to the Dodgers. Much like Colorado, San Francisco is putting its faith in the status quo. That status quo, of course, includes their top-flight starting rotation, superb young catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who has been tweeting photos showing how much weight he has lost this winter. It also includes 30-and-over position players Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand, Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff.

Much of the Dodgers offseason has seemed an unspoken bid to emulate the Giants’ path to the top: Build a starting rotation that’s competitive every night, and try to sneak by with limited offense. For all the concern about who takes residence in Mannywood, Los Angeles still seems to have the better outfield. But the potential of superstar in Posey and a comeback from Sandoval (not to mention a promotion for minor-league first-baseman Brandon Belt) might give San Francisco the edge elsewhere.

Summary
Eight months from October, the Giants look like the main roadblock for the Dodgers, with the Rockies close behind. With serious questions about a) what kind of production the Dodgers will get at catcher, third base and left field, b) the ongoing health issues of Rafael Furcal and c) the bounce-back potential of Matt Kemp and James Loney, it doesn’t seem inappropriate to pencil the Dodgers in for third place at this time, but they should be in the thick of the race for the division title.

Should Dodger fans be jealous of the Vernon Wells trade?

In a world where money doesn’t matter, newest Angel outfielder Vernon Wells is better than anyone the Dodgers will have playing alongside Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in April.

But even in a world where money doesn’t matter, volunteering to pay $86 million to Wells for his four years from age 32 through age 35 is a staggering amount, considering that even after slugging 31 homers in 2010, Wells only has a .321 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage over the past four years from ages 28-31. Both that OBP and slugging are less than what Kemp – labeled by some an underachiever – has produced over his past four years (.339/.474) while playing in a pitchers park, and Kemp’s best four years might still be ahead of him.

And since we live in a world where money does matter – where even under selfless ownership, salaries of more than $20 million per year matter – the idea of taking on Wells’ contract is frightening. Count me among the surprised that the Angels will shoulder it.

Unless it’s the difference between winning and losing a title, or unless we’ve been terribly misinformed about Toronto shouldering more of the burden of Wells’ contract, the level of improvement that Wells’ provides over the status quo is not worth the amount he’s being paid (both before or after you factor in sending off players like Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera and their combined $11 million salary for 2011). Do you think he’s the difference-maker for the Angels or would be for the Dodgers? It’s a roll of the dice to say the least.

“Vernon Wells isn’t a terrible player– he’s a solid player with a terrible contract,” Keith Law of ESPN.com aptly says, before adding “he is absolutely the wrong player right now for the Los Angeles Angels, who have made one the worst desperation moves I can remember.” Law offers the following explanation:

The problem is that Wells is now well below-average in center and probably should be in a corner outfield position, where his bat is less valuable, and where he may not profile offensively by the time he’s a free agent after 2014. His power spike in 2010 coincided with a sudden shift in the Rogers Centre’s park factor and a teamwide rise in home runs. He’s a good fastball hitter who’s not very disciplined and tries to pull the ball on the outer half, resulting in a lot of frustrating rollovers to the shortstop.

The Angels have Peter Bourjos and his 70 (or better) glove to man center, and there’s no way Wells will be worth $18 million more than Bourjos this year. Turning Bobby Abreu, a once-great player now showing his age, into a platoon bat/pinch-hitter would make the best of a bad situation. It’s still a bad situation, though, and doesn’t make the Angels much better off even in 2011.

Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com is more sanguine, only by comparison: “You can make plenty of arguments in favor of Friday’s move, but it certainly had the air of desperation.”

We know the Dodgers are desperate for a left fielder, but I’m glad they’re not (or can’t be) this desperate.

(Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez appears headed to Tampa Bay on a simple one-year, $2 million contract.)

Cliff Lee returns to Philadelphia, but let’s play the 2011 season anyway

Looks like the real deal. Some links before bedtime:

  • From Dave Cameron of Fangraphs

    If there’s a four-man rotation that has ever looked this dominant heading into a new year, I can’t find it. It is almost certainly in the discussion for the greatest four-man rotation of all time.

    There is one big asterisk on all this, though: as those great Braves teams show, a ridiculously great rotation is not enough to start planning a parade. The Phillies are certainly contenders, but they’re going to need more than just their Big Four to win it all.

  • Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk

    There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ rotation has a chance to be historically great, with two likely Cy Young candidates and two other starters that could rank among the NL’s 10 best, but this is still a team with issues. …

  • Keith Law of ESPN.com

    Assuming the Phillies don’t do what they did the last time they acquired another No. 1 starter — turn around and trade one of their incumbent aces — they now have a terrifyingly good rotation for the 2011 and 2012 seasons (after which Cole Hamels is a potential free agent) with the addition of Cliff Lee.

    The benefit in October is slimmer — but at least October conversations can already be entertained — since Roy Oswalt suddenly becomes the seldom-used fourth starter, but the Phillies will prevent a lot of runs over the course of the regular season by replacing their fifth-starter mess with Lee.

    As for the apparent size of the contract — five years and $120 million with a vesting option for a sixth, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick — Lee is 32 and had some minor back trouble in 2010, but the best free agent on the market almost never signs for just five years, and other than the back problem Lee is about as low-risk a starter as you’ll find this side of Roy Halladay. It’s actually very good value for the Phillies relative to what Lee-level starters have gotten in free agency, and I like Lee’s chances as a plus-plus command guy to retain most of his value even if he loses one or two mph on his fastball. …

    Given his contract situation, Philly could look to move Hamels for a right-handed hitter for the middle of their lineup, as losing Jayson Werth takes away most of the gain from reacquiring Lee and leaves them very left-handed. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Raul Ibanez are all on the wrong side of 30 and more likely to decline/get hurt than to improve. Rollins has been often hurt and in the midst of a four-year free fall, Utley has foght injuries, and Howard and Ibanez are just declining. Domonic Brown is an outstanding prospect, but won’t match Werth’s production, and Brown is also left-handed. Amaro has put together an enviable rotation, to say the least, but the Phils are oddly unbalanced now and it’s strange (but not bad) to see them commit this money to Lee with an old, injury-prone lineup staring them in the face.

I know some Dodger fans will only be jealous and bitter. Me … I’m jealous, but I won’t be bitter. It won’t be the first time I’ve been on the downside of an uphill battle.

The Dodger-Giant tradeoff


Getty Images“He was sentenced to be my Butler.”

Juan Uribe is poised to become the 47th player to wear both a Giants and Dodgers uniform since 1988, according to Baseball-Reference.com via ESPN Stats and Information (which also provides this analysis of the Uribe signing).

Though signing ex-Giants might seem a Ned Colletti fetish, the players have been going between the two teams in a relatively steady stream over those past 22 years, with hardly a moment, if any, in which at least one player on one team hadn’t at one time played on the other.

If you’ll allow for the somewhat subjective characterizations below, you’ll find that the Giants and Dodgers have had similar success (or lack thereof) with transplants. The number of players who have made relevant contributions to both teams is only five (and that includes Matt Herges and Marquis Grissom as “relevant”). Conversely, nearly half of the players on this list have been pretty much meaningless for both teams.

By the same token, the number of players going from relevancy with one team to irrelevancy with the other, or vice versa, has been practically equal.

If there’s any sort of noteworthy differential, it’s been that the Dodgers have been more likely to make an irrelevant Giant fill the same role in Los Angeles. I mean, really – 15 of these guys?

Anyway, I’m more than a bit concerned that Uribe will become relevant-Giant-turned-irrelevant-Dodger No. 9, but Dodger fans can hope for the best.

Relevant Giant becomes relevant Dodger (2)
Brett Butler
Jeff Kent

Relevant Dodger becomes relevant Giant (3)
Marquis Grissom
Matt Herges
Dave Roberts

Irrelevant Giant becomes irrelevant Dodger (15)
Troy Brohawn
Gary Carter
Dennis Cook (pitched well but briefly for both teams)
Jose Cruz, Jr.
Roberto Hernandez
Shea Hillenbrand
Ricky Ledee
Justin Miller
Terry Mulholland
Rick Parker
F.P. Santangelo
Cory Snyder
Mark Sweeney
Jack Taschner
Rick Wilkins

Irrelevant Dodger becomes irrelevant Giant (6)
Dave Anderson
Todd Benzinger
Eric Davis
Tom Goodwin
Jim Poole
Jose Vizcaino (twice)

Relevant Giant becomes irrelevant Dodger (8)
Brian Johnson (afraid so)
Darren Lewis
Ramon Martinez (II)
Brent Mayne
Bill Mueller
Russ Ortiz
Jason Schmidt
Brett Tomko

Relevant Dodger becomes irrelevant Giant (6)
Steve Finley (a half season in L.A., but a big one)
Orel Hershiser
Guillermo Mota
Brad Penny
Darryl Strawberry (had big ’91 season)
Eric Young

Irrelevant Giant becomes relevant Dodger (3)
Wilson Alvarez
Trenidad Hubbard (hit .304 in 313 at-bats in Los Angeles)
Kenny Lofton (hit .301 in Los Angeles)

Irrelevant Dodger becomes relevant Giant (3)
Stan Javier
Felix Rodriguez
Cody Ross (afraid so)

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