Mar 20

Question time

In my latest piece for, I look past Spring Training toward a dozen questions facing the 2012 Dodgers.

So few questions, so much time.

That would seem to be the sentiment of a sedate Spring Training for the Dodgers, who have little in the way of starting-position battles or Manny Ramirez-like mischief to put their fans on the edge of their seats. Rather, you get the feeling that fans are already antsy to get the season launched.

But rest assured by Opening Day, there will be plenty of questions facing the Medium-Sized Blue Wrecking Crew. Here are a dozen of them, with the best available answers. …

Read the full piece here.

Feb 21

The Dodger Thoughts 2012 Spring Training Primer

Pitchers and catchers are reporting today, which means that it’s time for the Dodger Thoughts 2012 Spring Training Primer, running in full at

The fate of the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers might be a mystery, but the fate of their opening day roster … not so much.

In 10 years of my previewing the Dodgers heading into spring training, never has there been fewer spots up for grabs for the first game of the season. Defining a roster lock as someone who will be in a Dodgers uniform for Game 1 unless he is injured, disabled or suddenly and shockingly incompetent, 22 of the 25 spots on the roster appear set.

However, that doesn’t mean we won’t see the usual rotation of has-beens and might-bes parading through Arizona in March. So here’s where we’ll introduce them. …

Update: Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. reports on Twitter that Blake Hawksworth “had an infection from surgery that required a second procedure to clean up” and won’t be ready for Opening Day. That increases the chances of Josh Lindblom or Jamey Wright (among other right-handed relievers) making the team to start the season.

Continue reading

Feb 15

Changes in MLB come too fast for long-term predictions

What does the future hold for the Dodgers? I’d almost suggest you not even try to answer. is running a three-day series called “Future Power Rankings,” which attempts “to measure how well each team is set up for sustained success over the next five years.” With respect, a closer look at the ratings underscores the folly of the effort.

The Dodgers have come in at No. 19, too low for an organization that had the 13th-best record in MLB last year and is poised to put years of front-office nonsense in the past. No one needs to detail to me the Dodgers’ current weaknesses, but the fact is that the franchise arguably has the best position player and the best pitcher in the National League, a farm system full of pitching potential, few contract commitments beyond 2013 and a volcano of TV money about to pour in — money that can be used to improve not only the on-field talent but the folks wearing the suits and sport coats.

The 2012 season, though not a lost cause, isn’t one to be optimistic about as a Dodger fan. But after that, do you really think there are going to be 18 other teams better positioned than the Dodgers for success?

ESPN’s biggest misgivings are in the category of “management” — defined as “value and stability of ownership, front office and coaching staff” — in which the Dodgers were given six points, the fewest of any team except for the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. But it’s sort of absurd to look at the Dodger management of February 2012 and extrapolate that it will tread such shallow water over the next five years. Though there are no guarantees, to say that there can be a quick turnaround in this category is an understatement.

Similarly, rankings of talent at both the major-league and minor-league level fluctuate like crazy year-to-year.  If you want any evidence, consider how highly the Dodgers would have ranked three years ago, at the midpoint between back-to-back National League Championship Series appearances.

In terms of the Dodgers’ NL rivals, ESPN ranks the Padres 20th, Giants 17th, Rockies 15th and Diamondbacks in the top 10. There’s a methodology to it, but I think that methodology is the product of a glorified guessing game.

The Future Rankings are definitely a conversation starter — they got me started this morning — but that’s about as far as I would take them.

Jan 16

Trying to get that ’09 feeling again …

I’m feelin’ mighty Mani-low.

Two seasons ago, when the Dodgers were the best team in the National League for much of the season and reached Major League Baseball’s Final Four, they had …

  • a below-average season for a first baseman by James Loney (.756 OPS).
  • nothing special offensively from their shortstop, Rafael Furcal (.711) or their catcher, Russell Martin (.680 OPS).
  • a strong but not superhuman season from their center fielder, Matt Kemp (.842).
  • 11 home runs all year from their bench.
  • an up-and-down campaign from Chad Billingsley (4.03 ERA).
  • an injury-hampered season from Hiroki Kuroda (3.76 ERA in 20 starts).
  • 10 starts by Eric Stults, seven by Jeff Weaver, five by Eric Milton, four by Jason Schmidt and three by Charlie Haeger before the late-season acquisitions of Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland stabilized matters.

The keys to that team, in retrospect, were Andre Ethier having his best year with an .869 OPS, matched with precision by the left-field duo of Manny Ramirez and Juan Pierre (.869 OPS), and a strong season by Casey Blake at third base (.832 OPS). It didn’t hurt that the team caught lightning in a sippy cup with Ronald Belisario (2.04 ERA), Ramon Troncoso (2.72 ERA) and midseason pickup George Sherrill (0.65 ERA). And Orlando Hudson made some nice contributions before giving way to Ronnie Belliard down the stretch.

Randy Wolf (3.23 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (2.79 ERA) were the Dodgers’ only two starting pitchers in 2009 who were above-average for a full season.

As the 2012 Dodgers near the horizon of the coming baseball season, you can  weaknesses similar to their division-winning forerunners from 2009. The problem is not that the ’09 team was perfect. The problem, for now, is that the ’12 weaknesses don’t really stop there – in particular, third base and left field are exceptional worry spots.

Jerry Sands and Juan Rivera really need to meet the best of expectations – which could happen, but I hope you’ve trained in the pool to hold your breath.  As for third baseman Juan Uribe … the hopes dim, though either of the two seasons he had in San Francisco (.824 OPS with 16 homers, .749 OPS with 24 homers) would be a welcome start.

In order to make the playoffs, the 2012 Dodgers will need some help from some very unexpected sources, either within the organization or from the outside. The possibility should keep things interesting for a while, but that’s about all you can guarantee.

Dec 13

Scoping out the NL West

With so many moves already made this offseason, I thought I’d check in with an overview of how the 2012 National League West is shaping up.

Keep in mind that there’s still plenty of tinkering to be done between now and Opening Day, so think of this as a progress report — and one with the caveat that I might not have every slot filled exactly as the teams’ general managers would. If you have any suggestions for better choices, let me know.

Arizona Colorado Los Angeles San Diego San Francisco
C Montero Hernandez Ellis Hundley Posey
1B Goldschmidt Helton Loney Guzman Belt
2B Hill Herrera Ellis Hudson Sanchez
SS Drew Tulowitzki Gordon Bartlett Crawford
3B Roberts LeMahieu Uribe Headley Sandoval
LF Parra Smith Rivera Blanks Cabrera
CF Young Fowler Kemp Maybin Pagan
RF Upton Gonzalez Ethier Venable Schierholtz
Bench Bloomquist Young Hairston Kotsay Pill
Bench Blum Colvin Kennedy Denorfia Fontenot
Bench Overbay Giambi Gwynn Cabrera Burriss
Bench Blanco Nelson Sands Baker Huff
Bench McDonald Pacheco Treanor Parrino Stewart
SP Kennedy Chacin Kershaw Latos Lincecum
SP Hudson Slowey Billingsley Stauffer Cain
SP Cahill Hammel Lilly Luebke Bumgarner
SP Collmenter Pomeranz Harang Moseley Vogelsong
SP Miley White Capuano Richard Zito
RP Putz Betancourt Jansen Street Wilson
RP Hernandez Belisle Guerra Gregerson Romo
RP Ziegler Lindstrom Lindblom Frieri Casilla
RP Saito Reynolds Elbert Thatcher Lopez
RP Breslow Brothers Guerrier Spence Affeldt
RP Shaw Escalona Hawksworth Brach Runzler
25th man Paterson Mortensen Oeltjen Forsythe Edlefsen

Update: The Dodgers just sent a list of their non-roster invitees to date for 2012 Spring Training.

RHP Angel Guzman
RHP Fernando Nieve
RHP Jose Ascanio
RHP Ryan Tucker
RHP Shane Lindsay
RHP Will Savage
LHP Alberto Castillo
LHP Matt Chico
LHP Scott Rice
LHP Wilfredo Ledezma
C Josh Bard
INF Jeff Baisley
INF Lance Zawadzki
INF Luis Cruz
OF Cory Sullivan

Dec 05

Ambien winter

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

I look forward to the spring, when my team is playing ball and the games can generate their own pleasures, regardless of who is wearing the uniform. I look forward to nights of holding my breath and unexpected surprises. I look forward to the image of a white ball against a black sky.

I look forward to the spring, and liberation from this winter, with its labor-camp hue of chain-gang signings, each with their shred of rationality or hope but none exceptionally inspiring, forcing me to pound the permafrost for the smallest bite of excitement.

It’s December 5, and I already need a break from the Dodgers’ jagged pursuit of free agents. If the winter is to be this bland, this “another day older and deeper in debt,” just shoot me right to the spring.

Dodgers sign Jerry Hairston Jr.

Source: Aaron Harang, Dodgers close

Oct 07

Ned Colletti talks about 2012

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti gave a long interview to Jim Bowden for Some highlights:

…Matt Kemp is a priority, and I plan on getting with his agent, Dave Stewart, and will work diligently in trying to work out a long-term deal with Matt. There is some urgency because he’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season if they don’t sign him long term now. Clayton Kershaw’s situation is not as urgent because he’s only first-time arbitration eligible and won’t be a free agent until after the 2014 season. That doesn’t mean we won’t have conversations and listen, and if we can make a deal that makes sense, we will be open to it — but not with the same urgency as Kemp.

… We will entertain signing (Andre Ethier) as well, but he’s coming off an injury and a subpar season. … I am not inclined to trade any player that is a key player to our major league club right now, and he fits that category.

… We really need a middle-of-the-lineup impact bat, which would be a very key component to us winning next year. We need to figure out second base. Carroll and Miles are free agents. Right now we have the two young players in Sellers and Ivan DeJesus that we might let compete for that job next year. We need to figure out left field as well, but we’re leaning towards Jerry Sands, especially after the way he finished this season with us. Behind the plate, we’ll probably let Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis handle the duties. They are both good catch-and-throw receivers. If Federowicz can hit .240 with some power, he can be an everyday catcher.

… And finally, although we’re pleased with our deep young bullpen, we’d still be open to signing another veteran reliever, but that would be a low priority based on our other team needs.

… We have a need in the middle of our lineup, and if we could do the right deal with a player in terms of duration and money, we would be willing to do it. We have flexibility if we keep catcher, second base, shortstop and left field as non-arbitration eligible players like we have now, then it is definitely possible that we could afford to spend the money on a significant middle-of-the-order bat.

… Kuroda has bought a house in Los Angeles and both of his daughters go to school here. He is an extremely loyal person to both the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles and really doesn’t want to play anywhere else. We hope he decides to stay here because he’s a very important part of our rotation and clubhouse.

… Our best prospects in our system right now are mostly pitching prospects, led by Zach Lee, who pitched at the Midwest league this past season but has a chance to be special. Allen Webster and Shawn Tolleson are two other top pitching prospects. Tolleson was our minor league pitcher of the year and a close friend of Clayton Kershaw. Steve Ames is another bullpen arm that we could see as early as next season. Chris Lee, our first round pick from Stanford, of course, is also special, and we’re going to try to develop him as a starter.

… We’re a lot closer to winning than people realize. If we had gotten just the typical offensive contributions this year from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe, who knows how many games we could have won. But injuries and subpar seasons are just part of the game. If we can make a few key moves this offseason and solve some of the question marks on this team that we’ve just been talking about, I really believe this club can finish in first in 2012.

There’s more, so be sure to read the whole interview, as well as Tony Jackson’s five key offseason questions and Ramona Shelburne’s own interview with Colletti.

Also, don’t miss the Kamenetzky Brothers’ podcast with “Breaking Bad” star and longtime Dodger fan Bryan Cranston.

Sep 29

Dodgers start offseason with $100 million already committed for 2012 (on paper)

Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireAndre Ethier might not have hit for power in 2011, but he’ll earn for power in 2012.

So, you were maybe expecting some payroll relief for 2012?

So long Casey Blake, so long Rafael Furcal, so long Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla and maybe Hiroki Kuroda and James Loney, hello dollars to spend?

Well, hate to break it to you, but …

Because several Dodgers from Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp to (gulp) Juan Uribe are getting huge raises next year, the Dodgers already have approximately $100 million committed to next year’s roster. And if they don’t surrender exclusive rights to Loney, you can bump that total even higher.

This is a $100 million team even without Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols or Henry Aaron. This is a $100 million team even with Dana Eveland and Nathan Eovladi in the starting rotation, even with A.J. Ellis, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers and Jerry Sands in the starting lineup, even with a bench in which the highest-paid, most experienced reserve is Trent Oeltjen.

Blame Kershaw (if you dare blame the greatest lefty pitcher in a Dodger uniform in the past 30-to-45 years) for the biggest payroll hike. After making $500,000 this season, Kershaw is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter. Tim Lincecum, at a similar point in his career, asked for a $13 million in arbitration while the Giants offered $8 million; the parties agreed to a two-year contract averaging $11.5 million. I originally estimated $11 million for Kershaw in 2012, but others online have suggested that he won’t get more than the $8 million that was actually Lincecum’s base salary in 2010. So I’m compromising with a $9 million estimate for Kershaw – and if that’s too high, it’s not going to be too high by much.

You can also blame MVP candidate Matt Kemp, who earned just shy of $7 million in the second year of his two-year deal. Having missed their chance to lock Kemp up for a lower figure longterm, the Dodgers probably will have to double his salary in 2012, give or take a few bucks, based on what’s happened to players of similar esteem. And Andre Ethier might end up making almost exactly as much, because he is coming off a salary of $9,250,000. Though his season was unfulfilling in some respects, a raise of at least 50% into the $13 million range is much more likely than not. (Last year, Loney got a 57 percent raise for a season considered a disappointment.)

And then, the backloaded contracts of Uribe and Ted Lilly move to the fore. Uribe, who earned $5 million while reaching base 78 times in 2011 with a .557 OPS, will get direct deposits totaling $8 million in 2012 as he aims for the Comeback Prayer of the Year Award. Lilly, with a 2.32 ERA since August 1, jumps from $7.5 million in 2011 to $12 million in 2012, including a deferred $1.5 million of his signing bonus.

Oh, by the way, middle reliever Matt Guerrier can also increase his 401(k) allocations, his salary bouncing from $1.5 million to $4.75 million, while Chad Billingsley’s three-year contract extension launches with a $9 million rate for 2012, up from $6.275 million this year.

For seven players – Kershaw, Kemp, Either, Uribe, Lilly, Guerrier, Billingsley – the Dodgers will pay $69,250,000. Maybe more.

Then there’s the deferred money going to players no longer on the Dodger roster. This causes great handwringing every year, and all I can say up front to the handwringers is, you need to get over it.

Yes, the $8 million-plus going to Manny Ramirez is painful, but at least Ramirez helped the Dodgers reach the National League Championship Series twice. Yes, the $3 million-plus going to Andruw Jones underscores the need for “root canal” to come in adjective form, but without restructuring Jones’ contract or an alternate reality in which the McCourts weren’t such avid homeowners, the Dodgers don’t get Ramirez in 2008.

These and other payments, such as the $1.25 million expected buyout of Blake’s 2012 option, add up to more than $21 million for 2012, according to the information compiled by Cot’s Baseball Contracts and True Blue L.A. It’s unfortunate, and exceedingly problematic for the coming year. But teams across the country have bad contracts. The Dodgers, while perhaps elite in this respect, are not unusual.

In any case, add in the non-Dodger payments to our original seven, and Los Angeles is now shelling out roughly $91 million with 18 spots on the active roster to fill.

The good news is that several of those spots can be filled cheaply with some promising players. For example, pitchers Eovaldi, Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, Scott Elbert, Josh Lindblom and Rubby De La Rosa (paid while he’s on the disabled list) should each make below $500,000. (The last thing the Dodgers should do is spend money on an overpriced veteran reliever.) Same with guys like Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands and A.J. Ellis.

But if, for example, the Dodgers plan an upgrade over Justin Sellers in the infield, or Eveland in the rotation, that’s going to cost.

That makes what happens with three players particularly intriguing: Loney, Hiroki Kuroda and Hong-Chih Kuo. Loney has made the case for his return with a strong final push, but do the Dodgers think he’ll be worth $6.5 million or so in 2012?

Kuroda has become like Vin Scully in making us wonder every year whether he’ll return. Kuroda, who earned $8 million plus performance bonuses in 2011 but is owed another $1.5 million next year no matter what happens, is a year older but coming off his best season as a Dodger. If he comes back, expect him to earn a similar salary. But will he come back?

As for Kuo, despite his difficult 2011 season, he would easily go up from $2.725 million in 2011 if the Dodgers didn’t release their exclusivity on him. But it seems more likely that Los Angeles would non-tender him and then try to sign him as a free agent at a lower rate, if he doesn’t retire and open a restaurant first.

And if they go without any of these guys, will it be to save money to fill the rotation, save money to get the big-fish infielder like Pujols, Fielder or Aramis Ramirez, or to save money, period?

Would they consider validating Ethier’s worst fears and moving him for salary relief? As much as Loney’s worth has been questioned, Ethier stands to make about twice as much as Loney in 2012 despite a 2011 OPS that is only .042 higher than Loney’s.

It’s difficult to say what the bottom line is, given that we don’t know what the Dodgers’ top payroll limit is. If Frank McCourt wins in Ownership Court anytime soon, anything’s possible. But if he loses, or if – as is most likely – the saga remains “to be continued,” the Dodgers are in for some hard decisions.

Sep 22

Thank you, Dodgers

Sometime in the summer – I’m not going to try to figure out the exact date, because it doesn’t matter exactly when – my despair for the Dodgers reached a new and perilous level.

It wasn’t anything new about ownership – those misgivings were long-established and steady. It wasn’t a sudden realization that they wouldn’t make the playoffs – without giving up hope entirely, I had settled in with that belief since May.

It was the fear that the remaining 50-or-whatever-it-was games would be just punishing, that the bright spots would be too few and far between, that watching the Dodgers would become tiresome and writing about them an absolute chore.

There would always be something to write about, but that was part of the problem. I wouldn’t be able to hibernate, to pull a summertime Groundhog Day and declare six more weeks of winter in August. I’d have to pay attention to a team from which I might want to take a long vacation.

Instead, just about the opposite occurred.

While the specter of McCourt, a lost season and an uncertain future still hang over the team, the final weeks of the Dodger season have been nothing short of fun.

We have been treated to …

  • the climactic finishes to brilliant seasons by Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp.
  • the Dee Gordon Experience.
  • the “Kenley Jansen Now You See the Ball, Now You Don’t” show.
  • the classy and brassy pitching of Hiroki Kuroda.
  • the resurgence of James Loney.
  • the surgence of Jerry Sands.
  • the relief of a semi-productive, beggars-can’t-be-choosers cleanup hitter in Juan Rivera.
  • the ahead-of-schedule brightness of “U-less” Nathan Eovaldi.
  • the productive determination of A.J. Ellis.
  • the steady reliability of Javy Guerra.
  • the quiet blossoming of Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom.
  • the brief moments in sunlight of Dana Eveland.
  • the persistence of Hong-Chih Kuo.
  • and last, and yes, least – but not insincerely – the mystery and intrigue of Eugenio Velez.

That’s a lot to be thankful for — with more that I’m leaving out — when I’m not sure I could reasonably have expected very much at all.

Most of all, we have been treated to winners in sheepish clothing. We have gotten the salve for some deep wounds.

There are some long-term problems that need to be solved, but those would have been there anyway. In the meantime, I’ve gotten more pleasure than pain from the final weeks of the 2011 Dodger season. And I am grateful.

Sep 09

Revisiting 1979

Rock bottom Turning point Up top All together
1979 Dodgers 36-57 (.387) July 19 43-26 (.623) 79-83, third place, 11 1/2 GB
2011 Dodgers 37-51 (.420) July 7 33-21 (.611) 70-72, third place, 12 GB (through Thursday)

After the 1979 season, the Dodgers rallied in 1980 to force a tie for the National League West title after 162 games. Proposal: We take the 163rd game away from 1980, which really did the Dodgers little good, and stick it at the end of the 2011 schedule, which is missing a game and where it will do much less harm.

Aug 08

The series that might have actually meant something

I have a little confession to make. Sunday afternoon, I was plotting the idea of making the Dodgers’ three-game series with Philadelphia that starts tonight into a mini-National League Championship Series showdown — in my mind.

Though I basically gave up hope for the Dodgers’ reaching the playoffs weeks and weeks ago, I was thinking that I might give the series with the Phillies some actual meaning. The rationale?

  • Los Angeles had won 10 of 15 games to eliminate exactly one-third of its 13 1/2-game deficit in the NL West.
  • With Clayton Kershaw on the mound against Arizona and San Francisco playing the Phillies, there was a decent chance that the Dodgers would close the divisional gap to eight games with eight weeks to go.
  • If the Dodgers won the series from the Phillies, that would most properly considered a fluke, but it would also, however temporarily and minimally, mark the Dodgers as a team looking for a glass slipper.

Sunday’s turnaround loss sapped much of my drive for my mini-NLCS frame of mind. I don’t think I’m going to be much more invested in this series than I was going to be before this flight of rather delusional fancy.

Knowing that the Dodgers actually could have stayed in the race does haunt me a little bit. One more week of winning combined with a week of losing by the division leaders, and the entire division would be thrown into doubt.  It really hammers home just how absolutely awful the Dodgers had to be this year to be considered out of the running for a division title with so many games to play.

* * * has launched the ESPN Los Angeles Hall of Fame, with 20 initial nominees for five spots. Nominees could not be active, which explains why Vin Scully isn’t present.

I’d have been happy to vote for all 20, but forced to pick five, I went with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chick Hearn, Magic Johnson, Sandy Koufax and John Wooden. Yes, I’m aware I did baseball a disservice in the process.

* * *

Yes, a $27 million loss does seem like a lot. My recollection is that losses were routine when Fox owned the team, but the company was large enough to withstand them to some extent (Piazza trade notwithstanding).

Jul 31

Running the numbers …

With the Dodgers sitting at 48-59 (.449), they need to go …

  • 52-3 (.945) to reach 100 wins.
  • 42-13 (.764) to reach 90 wins.
  • 33-22 (.600) to get to .500.
  • 25-30 (.455) to avoid 90 losses.
  • 24-31 (.436) to avoid 91 losses and their worst season since 2005.
  • 16-39 (.291) to avoid 99 losses and their worst season since 1992 and ever in Los Angeles.
  • 15-40 (.273) to avoid 100 losses.
  • 11-44 (.200) to avoid 104 losses, the most in franchise history.
  • 4-51 (.078) to avoid the worst winning percentage in franchise history.
Jul 05

The upcoming last gasp

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesA beautiful stadium, even in darkening skies.

Can you stop the sun from setting?

Following their two remaining home games with the Mets, the Dodgers bridge the All-Star break with nine games against three division rivals: Friday-Sunday against fourth-place San Diego, July 15-17 at second-place Arizona and July 18-20 at first-place San Francisco. If the Dodgers continue to play losing baseball over that stretch, they should drop far enough back in the National League West race to convince even Dodger general manager Ned Colletti to concede 2011.

If they tread water or make any gains while coming out of the All-Star break against the division’s two leading teams on the road – and believe me, I’m not predicting they will, just offering up the possibility – the Dodgers will follow a July 22-24 series against Washington with three games against Colorado (July 25-27) and three more against Arizona (July 29-31) in the final week, all at home, before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Not much has gone right for the Dodgers in 2011, and so there’s limited reason to think that will change. However, 15 games inside the division between now and the end of the month provide this last-place team with one more chance to hold off next year – or extend it an early invitation.

Jun 24

State of L.A. baseball podcast

It’s a state we’d all alter, but in any event, here’s what Tony Jackson, Mark Saxon, Brian Kamenetzky and I had to say in our podcast about the Dodgers and Angels at (approximately) midseason.

* * *

  • Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have each outhit the batters they have faced this year. David Golebiewski of Fangraphs looks at the phenomenon.
  • Mark Cuban’s potential as a baseball owner is the subject of Jayson Stark’s latest rumination at
  • Farewell, Peter Falk.