Feb 25

Giles, Mientkiewicz have chronic ailments

Considered leading contenders for the Dodger bench because of their previous major-league success, both Brian Giles and Doug Mientkiewicz have arrived at Spring Training with health concerns that aren’t going to go away.

As Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports:

He went on the disabled list on June 19 and never came off, diagnosed with what was called a bone contusion, which can be a nice way of saying it’s bone rubbing on bone. In that case, all the rehab in the world is meaningless, as the pain will return as soon as he starts running.

“I feel healthy, but you don’t know until you start pounding on it,” he said of his knee, which underwent micro-fracture surgery in 2007. “I’ve always said, if it’s too hard or I can’t play well, I’ll walk away myself. I did regular offseason workouts and they went well.” …

… Giles’ most obvious rival for the bench role is Doug Mientkiewicz, who has physical problems of his own, with chronic pain in his throwing shoulder and, for the second year, must make the club on a Minor League contract. …

Left-handed hitting Xavier Paul would be the most obvious potential beneficiary if Giles and Mientkiewicz can’t make it for the long haul.

* * *

  • Vicente Padilla will start the official March 5 Spring Training opener, Gurnick reports, though this is not an indication he will be the Opening Day starter in April. Gurnick also notes that the Dodgers actually have a B game three days earlier — this coming Tuesday.
  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com had lots of good tidbits in his lunchtime chat today. Among other things: Ivan DeJesus, Jr. is still experiencing soreness from his broken leg. Also, he tells us not to forget about Cory Wade, whom he thinks is capable of a comeback.
  • At Dodgers Blog, Steve Dilbeck tells his story of being at his first Spring Training and meeting Sandy Koufax — and experience first-hand his predictive powers regarding Vero Beach weather and earth.
  • Memories of Kevin Malone analyzes the past, present and future of Dodger pitching prospect Chris Withrow.
  • Recovering Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb had a clean 45-pitch throwing session today.
  • I’ve talked in the past about always wanting to chronicle the seasons of those who proclaim at Spring Training that they’re in the best shape of their lives. Fangraphs is taking on the project head on, with posts by Dave Cameron and Joe Pawlikowski.
  • Meanwhile, proving once again that his reputation as a softie is off-target, former Dodger J.D. Drew played in pain throughout 2009, reports Daniel Barbarisi of the Providence Journal (via Hardball Talk).
  • Kicking off a series of interviews with the most important people on this planet, DodgerFan.net has “Five Tweets with … Jon Weisman of ESPN/LA’s Dodger Thoughts.”
Feb 24

Dodgers’ ability to get on base keeps team in pennant race

Often forgotten about the 2009 Dodgers is that they were a good on-base percentage team – tops in the National League at .346. They say pitching wins championships, but being able to put runners on base, time and time again, plays a pretty big role, too.

The individual OBPs will fluctuate this season – in ways we can’t really predict – but with an even split of players above and below the age of 28, the team’s OBP might be very much the same.

Scanning the offense:

Russell Martin, C (.352 in 2009): Despite his ’09 power outage, Martin maintained an OBP within shouting distance of his .373 career mark entering the year, and reflective of his .025 drop (compared with 2008) in batting average on balls in play. Even in September, by which time his season was all but lost offensively, Martin drew 13 walks (nine unintentional). He OBPed .327 in the month, despite his BABIP being an unlucky .200.

Even if stays a worse slugger than Juan Pierre, Martin hasn’t lost the ability to work his way to first base. I know there’s a lot of cynicism about Martin at this point – and his new physique only adds to the mystery – but you still have a 27-year-old player who underperformed for one year but has been historically strong in this area.

James Loney, 1B (.357): Loney walked more than he struck out for the first time in his career last year, indicating a better handle of the strike zone. If he decides to swing more for the fences, that could change, but the odds are better that, at age 26 in May, he will improve. His OBP in the second half of 2009 was .366.

Ronnie Belliard, Blake DeWitt and Jamey Carroll, 2B (.325/.245/.355): No surprise that this appears the most tenuous spot of the offense. Last year, Orlando Hudson on-based .357 and Belliard, in his short stint out West, .398. That’s going to be tough for this trio to match, despite Carroll’s ability here. A breakout season for DeWitt, who OBPed .344 in ’08, would help – as would better work off the bench to replace the 204 plate appearances given to Mark Loretta (.309).

Rafael Furcal, SS (.335): I won’t make any bold predictions for the 32-year-old Furcal to improve, despite his better look in September. There’s potential for an uptick if he stays healthy this year, but that’s a big if. Furcal’s backup, whoever it is, figures to be OBP-challenged – though perhaps no worse than Juan Castro (.311) was.

Casey Blake, 3B (.363): Blake’s OBP soared unexpectedly last year to a near-career-high .363 at age 35, compared to a .338 career mark. He’ll slide.

Manny Ramirez, LF (.418): Ramirez OBPed .492 before his suspension – we won’t see that player again. But in the period from his suspension return to his Bobbleslam, his OBP was still .429, and so the overall 2009 figure he posted last year still seems mostly within reach.

No. 4 outfielder Juan Pierre had a surprising .365 on-base percentage – not as good as Ramirez’s even in August and September, but higher than Reed Johnson and friends will probably have. The Dodgers’ OBP should still be strong in left field, if not quite as strong.

Matt Kemp, CF (.352): Kemp’s OBP wasn’t a career-high – in fact, it was only .010 higher than his 2007 batting average. This is a 25-year-old who was rapidly growing but wasn’t maxing his on-base potential last year. While the .266 OBP he had in September gives pause, bet on Kemp to step it up.

Andre Ethier, RF (.361): Since his major-league debut in 2006, Ethier has simply been a strong OBP man. His career-low is .350, and he’s been above .360 in three of four years. The fact that he has had some slumps underscores just how hot he gets the rest of the time. If pitchers decide to challenge Ramirez more, Ethier’s the guy they might be most careful with – I’m not sure a .400 OBP is out of the question.

So, second base, shortstop, third base and left field figure to slide. Catcher, first base, center field and right field figure to rise. Obviously, things won’t all go according to plan, but with any kind of luck at all, the Dodgers should be able keep innings going like they did last year. That’s one reason why they still should be taken seriously in the 2010 pennant race.

* * *

  • Post of the Day honors go to Memories of Kevin Malone for its great interview with Dodger minor-leaguer and major-blogger Brian Akin. It offered great insights into the minor-league experience and really is a must-read for any baseball fan.
  • Today was Dodger organist Nancy Bea Hefley’s birthday. Her age: timeless.
  • In the daily attempt to rehabilitate himself as a viable pitcher, Eric Gagne told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that Dodger pitching coach Ken Howell has found flaws in his release point that are correctable. Here’s a video feature on Gagne’s workouts.
  • Relive Alex Cora’s 18-pitch home run from 2004 with this video recap at Dodgers.com.
  • Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness feels that the Manny Ramirez backlash and Juan Pierre forelash has gotten out of hand – at least on Facebook. I’m not surprised that people have turned on Ramirez, but I remain taken aback by how many have no fondness at all for a player who carried the team to the 2008 playoffs.
  • It was Kemp day for the guys on the beat: Tony Jackson, Dylan Hernandez, Ken Gurnick and to top things off, The Associated Press.
  • Former Dodger farmhand Sergio Pedroza, sent away in the Julio Lugo trade, has returned to the organization, and he is being joined by 27-year-old Dustin Yount, son of Robin. Both played most recently in the independent Golden Baseball League.
  • Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez probably will get traded before he becomes eligible to leave the team as a free agent after the season. Gonzalez was forthright in telling Corey Brock of MLB.com (via Hardball Talk) that he wouldn’t give San Diego a discount on a new contract.
  • Maury Brown of the Biz of Baseball and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus discussed the proposed testing of minor leaguers for human growth hormone. Money quote from Carroll: “It’s going to be difficult to fight public opinion. Facts don’t work – look, HGH studies have shown conclusively that it’s not effective and can actually reduce performance. OK, it makes bones stronger – not a benefit! The detectable period is laughably short. Still, Bud will wave something at Michael Schmidt and ESPN and they’ll jump.”
  • Jerry West biographer Roland Lazenby gave Mark Medina of the Times an extremely lengthy interview. Lazenby’s “Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon” looks like something we can’t miss.
Feb 23

Potential postponement of McCourt trial further clouds 2010

When you get right down to it, I just want baseball to be about baseball.

And so the news today from Bill Shaikin of the Times that the McCourt divorce trial will quite possibly be delayed past its scheduled May 24 start, that it won’t necessarily be resolved before season’s end, is depressing.

My inclination would be just to shut it out — wake me up when the trial ends — but doing what I do, I can’t shut it out. The stature of the story is so large that it just takes over. Matt Kemp could hit three home runs in a game this summer, but if there’s another divorce court revelation, that becomes the news, because it affects The Fate of the Franchise.

Last year, we were blindsided by Manny Ramirez’s suspension. Thank goodness we didn’t know it was coming, because we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the team’s hot start otherwise. But no matter how well things go this year for the Dodgers, we know that dreary news about the ownership is lurking. And if things go poorly for the Dodgers, forget about it. It’s going to be a very grumpy year. Cloudy with a chance of screwballs.

Dodger fans are an impatient lot in general these days, waiting for another World Series title like prisoners in an LAX flight delay. The McCourt saga takes those fans and sticks a smelly seatmate next to them who won’t stop talking. Everything that’s bad will be made worse; everything that’s good will be temporary.

I can picture the thrilling moments; I can picture myself enjoying them. But then, around the corner, I see the latest McCourt news, and people getting twisted in knots over it.

All I can say is, don’t go looking for reasons to be cynical or bitter about the Dodgers. They’ll find you. No matter how low the McCourts go, try to let yourself enjoy the games. Whoever owns the Dodgers, don’t let them own you. It’s baseball.

* * *

Ken Gurnick’s preseason feature for MLB.com on Clayton Kershaw is a good one. There are the requisite Spring Training bromides from Kershaw — in addition to an announcement of his engagement to Texas A&M senior Ellen Melson — but also some nuts-and-bolts talk from the young lefty as well as pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.

… For his part, Kershaw knows that he’s fully responsible for his high pitch counts.

“What I want to do is learn how to minimize my pitches. The way to do that is by fastball command, that’s huge for me,” he said. “I worked on that a lot this offseason by making my bullpen [sessions] as game-like as possible. Last year my bullpens were just practice, to make sure my arm felt right.

“This year the focus is on game situations so my fastball command is something I can always rely on when my other pitches aren’t going great. I need to throw breaking pitches over for strikes. Even though I’m not a master of the changeup by any means, that pitch can really get you out of there with as few pitches as possible. If I minimize my pitches, there won’t be a focus on how many pitches I’ve thrown.” …

The article indicates that some of the pitch count restriction on Kershaw will be loosened this year. That’s fine to an extent, but the thing to keep in mind is that despite an additional year under his belt, he’s still only going to be 22 in the 2010 season. His arm is still too young to leave completely unprotected.

“That came up in the staff meeting,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “I’m not saying we’ll take the gloves off, but at the same time, we feel much better about how he bounced back and stayed strong and consistent through last season. We’re in a situation where we feel we can loosen the reins a little bit and slowly increase him.”

A year ago, by the way, Kershaw hosted a baseball camp that helped raise funds for a trip by his fiancee and her family to help Zambian orphans.

* * *

  • Every member of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster has reported early except for the three Rs: Ronald Belisario, Rafael Furcal and Ronnie Belliard, according to Gurnick.
  • The Dodgers will play three March exhibition games in Taiwan instead of two, Gurnick confirmed.
  • Congrats to Jeff Weaver, who will miss some training camp for new dad duty (and dooty). Dylan Hernandez of the Times adds that Weaver said he will opt out of his contract with the Dodgers rather than accept a minor-league assignment.
  • Some fun promotions are on tap for the coming season, including a Vin Scully poster. The younger generation of Dodgers is also featured prominently in several giveaways.
  • I’ve been meaning to talk about the ticket sales news from Monday, but in case I don’t get to it, here’s a link to the official release.
  • From 50 years ago today, here’s a snapshot of pitchers including Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax kicking off Spring Training, offered by Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror.
  • A slideshow of the key players in the McCourt divorce drama was provided by Lawrence Delevingne of Business Insider Law Review (link via Rob McMillin’s 6-4-2).
  • Finally, I just wanted to pass along this Variety blog post of no significance: “Series I dream about: George Costanza on ‘Big Love.'”
Feb 22

Manny Ramirez speaks in tongues – and people listen

The way people picked apart Manny Ramirez’s statements today for significance was crazy. Crazy, I says!

It’s Manny Ramirez.  If there’s one guy in baseball you judge by actions instead of words, it’s Manny Ramirez.  And yet, the baseball world got their engines all revved up, over what?  Over nothing.  Over a guy saying what everyone knew. Over a guy talking in such stream-of-consciousness that if he read his own quotes, he’d probably not recognize them.

In a world that rages against Tiger Woods for being robotic or disingenuous, here’s Ramirez telling it like it is.  Granted, what “it is” can change from one minute to the next, but that’s kind of the point.  You can’t take what he says so seriously. We know he doesn’t.  We know this. We have years of intimate experience with this knowledge.

So why do people act like the opposite is true? Why do people act like they care about anything except how well he performs on the field after the games start?

Do you think that if Ramirez is hitting, people will care that he said anything bad? That if he isn’t hitting, people will care that he said all the right things?

I’m not nominating Ramirez for sainthood, but it’s just ridiculous how he became target practice today. It was like people trying to draw life lessons from a fortune cookie.

Manny was being Manny. And we were being us.

* * *

  • A couple of recent articles serve as reminders that no team – not even good teams – usually has a quality No. 5 starter. Paul Boye of Phillies Nation notes, for example, that No. 5 starters for the 2009 champion Yankees had a 6.63 ERA.  Chuck Brownson also touches on the subject at the Hardball Times. Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more.  (Previously on Dodger Thoughts: “Dodgers will pick a No. 5 starter – and another, and another …”)
  • Scott Elbert had another pain-free outing – “fantastic,” he said – reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Andrew Lambo, potential Dodger outfielder of the not-so-distant future, gets a profile from Memories of Kevin Malone.
  • Sports headlines from 40 years ago today: “Angels to Run Their Camp ‘Dodger Style.'”
  • The name speaks for itself: Everything Jerry Reuss.
Feb 22

Manny Ramirez begins his farewell tour

Manny Ramirez confirmed — as much as he is capable of — what every interested party on Earth and neighboring celestial bodies already surmised: 2010 will be his last season as a Dodger. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… He said he hasn’t been told by club officials that the Dodgers aren’t interested in re-signing him, but he added that it probably isn’t realistic to expect them to do so.

“I’m just speculating but I’m not 23 anymore,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said he would wait until after the season to determine if he wants to play in the major leagues for what would be a 19th year. His options might be limited to the American League, which uses the designated hitter, because of his defensive limitations in left field.

“The game is still fun, but I think I have to wait until the season ends and see where my family is at before I make a choice,” Ramirez said. “I will just wait and see how my body reacts.”

After working out for most of the winter near his South Florida home, Ramirez said his legs feel fine entering spring training.

“From the waist down, I feel 15,” he said. “From the neck up, I feel 43. I feel good.” …

This is creating a lot of headlines from Los Angeles to Boston, but it doesn’t really change anything. There’s still exactly the same doubt about his physical condition there already was. Mentally, there’s certainly a chance he might mail in the season, or try to orchestrate a midseason trade to an American League team with an opening at designated hitter — a move the Dodgers might be quite happy to accommodate, depending on the circumstances. But the fact that Ramirez voiced aloud what everyone was suspecting is hardly a turning point.

The main thing is that we’re still looking at a 38-year-old slugger with idiosyncrasies but also something left to prove. It was going to be an interesting ride before today, and it figures to stay that way.

Ramirez’s OPS by month in his final season in Boston: April 1.029, May .714, June .930, July 1.060.

Other notes:

  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times wrote that Ramirez “refused to talk in detail about problems at the plate last season, but he acknowledged that (the Dodgers) made him change his off-season training regimen.”
  • Joe Torre said that he plans to give Ramirez two or three days off every two weeks. If you translate that as a game off per week, on average (factoring in off days), Ramirez would be on tap to play about 140 games if he doesn’t go on the disabled list.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts: “Tracing the Citizen Rebellion in Mannywood.”

Feb 21

So, you were wondering about the Dodgers’ 2018 payroll?

Bill Shaikin of the Times has another batch of revelations from last week’s Jamie McCourt legal filings indicating that, while player payroll has remained steady through last year, the Dodgers planned on keeping it below 2009 levels for most of the next decade despite projected increases in revenue.

For my part, I don’t happen to think the Dodgers are capable of predicting what their team payroll will be eight years from now, as the documents suggest. As Vin Scully might say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your 2018 budget.”

Furthermore, as Shaikin writes, the projected payroll (relative to projected revenue) in these documents is so low that even MLB commissioner Bud Selig (or, in all probability, his successor) would object.

… The Dodgers spent 46% of revenue on player compensation in 2007 and 42% in 2008, according to the documents. The projections call for that percentage to fall to 25% by 2013 and remain at about 25% through 2018.

Commissioner Bud Selig encourages teams to spend about one-half their revenue on player compensation, according to two high-ranking major league executives contacted by The Times.

“That’s Bud’s rule of thumb,” one of the sources said. …

In other words, while this seems juicy, I wouldn’t overreact. The documents, Shaikin writes, were “prepared by the McCourt management team in May to solicit Chinese investors for a partnership that could have included the Dodgers, a soccer club in Beijing and another in the English Premier League.”  They’re designed to make the Dodgers’ profiteering, if you will, look as glowing as possible. It doesn’t seem to me that the scenario they describe is any more realistic than one that suggests the Dodgers have cheap ticket prices and top-of-the-line payroll. The truth is somewhere in between.

There’s something about having this article come out while I was watching the latest episode of the chaos that is the fourth season of HBO’s “Big Love” that somehow seems all too appropriate. These families have all these ambitions, but the domestic conflicts threaten to destroy them all.

Feb 21

Scott Elbert recovering from tendinitis

No. 5 starter candidate Scott Elbert had a recent bout of shoulder tendinitis, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but after being shut down for 10 days had a pain-free bullpen session Thursday. He is scheduled to throw again Monday.

In a separate blog post, Gurnick noted that reliever Travis Schlichting had a pretty significant health scare over the winter, dealing with Gilbert’s syndrome, “which results in increased bilirubin levels and, in Schlichting’s case, is believed to have caused fatigue and nausea that led to (a 30-pound) weight loss.”

Hiroki Kuroda and Hong-Chih Kuo, among others, are having no issues so far.

  • Vicente Padilla was throwing (stories about) bullets. Tony Jackson of ESPN.com/LA has details. If Padilla were a duck, Casey Blake might still have a beard.
  • The way Joe Torre talked about Jeff Weaver, according to Gurnick, a swingman role in the bullpen is his to lose.
  • For those interested in injured pitchers from 2009 that the Dodgers might have signed but ended up with Oakland instead, this Associated Press update tells us that Justin Duchsherer is having back troubles, but Ben Sheets is pounding the strike zone.
Feb 20

It’s the first day of the rest of your Spring Training

On your mark, get set … go!

  • Eric Gagne is slimmer, regretful and realistic on the first day of Spring Training, according to Tony Jackson of ESPN.com/LA. Gagne told T.J. Simers of the Times that he used human growth hormone during “part” of his dominant stretch with the Dodgers.
  • Jackson also has continued discussion of Joe Torre’s plan to return as Dodger manager in 2011, although from what I can tell there were no new news developments on an official level. We did learn that Don Mattingly will manage the Dodgers who stay in Arizona when part of the team goes to Taiwan. Sorry, Tommy.
  • Gagne has borrowed his old No. 38 back from Ramon Troncoso, at least for the exhibition run. “He made that number for the Dodgers,” Troncoso told Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. Sorry, Lance Rautzhan.
  • Ronald Belisario had a season so nice after arriving late to Spring Training because of visa problems, he’s trying it twice.
  • Why did Casey Blake shave his beard? The same reason all men do – because of a bad duck hunt.
  • The Dodgers are marketing the June 25-27 series against the Yankees as “The Rivalry Renewed,” and Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy, who saw 10 billboards in one Sunset Blvd. mile, doesn’t approve.
  • Jordan Hershiser, the 6-foot-8! USC sophomore pitcher who was born during Dad’s record consecutive shutout innings streak, is the subject of another VSIMH post.
  • Matt Kemp’s 1,072.4% salary raise from 2009 to 2010 was second only to Tim Lincecum, notes The Associated Press.
  • On first glance, I thought this McCourt organizational flow chart at Dodger Divorce was a parody, but apparently it’s the real deal, at least in the eyes of Jamie McCourt’s legal team.
  • Russell Martin is definitely trying a bulk solution to his hitting problems, adding 25 pounds to his own backstop, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Arte Moreno believes that the Angels’ name migration from Anaheim to Los Angeles has fulfilled his hopes for increased revenue, writes Mike DiGiovanna of The Times.
Feb 19

Logan White gave thumbs up to Eric Gagne signing

Dodger scouting guru Logan White told general manager Ned Colletti that he thought Eric Gagne would be “competitive” after watching Gagne throw this month, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Colletti added other thoughts about Gagne’s unlikely candidacy to make the Dodgers.

… Colletti said Gagne’s inclusion in the Mitchell Report was not a factor.

“He’s not the first player to sign a contract after being in the Mitchell Report and this also isn’t his first team since,” he said. …

Now, can Gagne go from Indy ball to make the cut for the Dodgers’ bullpen, one of the deepest in the league? Jonathan Broxton is the All-Star closer, former Orioles closer George Sherrill sets up, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo follow them with Ramon Troncoso now established in middle relief and Jeff Weaver the most likely swingman. That leaves maybe one spot up for grabs and about a dozen arms against which Gagne will compete. What are the chances?

“It’s too early to tell,” said Colletti. “But you don’t walk away from the opportunity to have somebody who has been really successful see where they’re at. It would be shortsighted if you don’t give people like that a chance. The bullpen is one of our stronger areas, but you have no idea what can happen over the next seven weeks, who gets hurt, who has lost it somewhere along the line. I’d rather have choices to make.”

* * *

Update: Russell Martin, “who focused on improving his flexibility last off-season, went back to his old strength-based training program this winter,” writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.

Feb 19

Jamie McCourt court filing shines spotlight on Dodgers’ three-ring circus

First, the links:

“Jamie McCourt doubles request for monthly support,” by Bill Shaikin of the Times.

“In Divorce Suit, Wife Disputes Dodgers’ Owner’s Wealth,” by John R. Emshwiller of the Wall Street Journal.

“Filings Running Wild,” by Joshua Fisher of Dodger Divorce.

* * *

Jamie McCourt’s various requests for monthly support from Frank McCourt are, in many ways, a sideshow in contrast to the springtime courtroom event that will determine whether one owns the Dodgers or both do. So I’ll just point to the most interesting tent attractions: Continue reading

Feb 18

October sky

“Pitchers and catchers report” is when I ease into a new baseball season with the comfort of a towel laid out in the sunny grass. It’s my arms-behind-my-head, feel-the-first-rays, first-inning stretch.

But circumstances tonight allowed me to watch a recording of the end of the Nutter Butter Peanut Blunder game – Game 2 of the 2009 National League Division Series. And instantly, I’m catapulted from my winter slumber and past my lazy pre-spring bloom. It’s fall, and I’m revved up. I remember exactly what I’m in this for.

The roar of the horsehide, the edge of my seat. The deep inhale. The fever.

It’s time.

Feb 18

Down in ‘Jungle’-land: Eric Gagne signs minor-league deal

Eric Gagne has signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers, according to Dylan Hernandez of The Times, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com and Tony Jackson of ESPN/LA, citing anonymous sources.

The odds remain against Gagne ever pitching in Dodger Stadium again, short of the organization bringing back the Oldtimers Game, and it’s almost certain he won’t break into the major-league bullpen by Opening Day. But apparently the Dodgers saw something in Gagne worth pursuing. I’m imagining there will be quite a roar if he takes the home mound one more time.

Gagne last pitched for the Dodgers on June 6, 2006 (coincidentally, the day Clayton Kershaw was drafted). After making his season debut four days earlier – nearly a year after his last major-league game – Gagne struck out two in a 14-pitch save against the Mets. There were reports he was ailing after the game,  but hope persisted he would return later in the year. Here’s my report from June 26 of that year.

Gagne said that he felt a little stiffness warming up in the bullpen before his last game June 6, but that it was nothing that he hadn’t felt in the past when he was healthy. But he thinks that when he entered the game, he overthrew a changeup – “rolled it over too much” – and tweaked the nerve. Subsequent treatment with anti-inflammatories did not help.

“It got better and we started some exercises, then it got sore again,” Johnston said.

The switch to neurontin seems to have brought renewed optimism, however cautious. If the progress continues, Gagne can resume exercises before moving forward, according to Johnston.

Gagne added that he isn’t sure that a rehabilitation assignment in AAA Las Vegas will be necessary, and that he could be on the Dodger Stadium mound in July.

“It’s not a bad injury,” Gagne said. “It’s just a nagging injury.”

Still, it has been a long, impatient road for Gagne, whose injury spiral began in March 2005 when he injured his knee during a Spring Training pepper drill. When asked how Gagne has handled his time on the sidelines, Johnston said sympathetically, “not very well.”

“He’s very frustrated,” Johnston said. “He’s such a competitor. He lives to be a big part of the team.”

Interviewing Gagne, it was easy to be swayed by the feeling that he knows his body, that he will be as patient during this rehabilitation as he says, that he will warm up as carefully in the future as he promises and ultimately, that he’s right to believe he will help the Dodgers this season. Walking away, it was hard not to feel paranoid that preventing further injury was beyond his control.

Can he really be on the mend? Why couldn’t he be on the mend? Fool me once and all that.

The implication was that further rest after Gagne’s pain disappeared was unneccessary, but the question I didn’t ask is whether that is a certainty.

Overall, Gagne and Johnston seemed quite humbled by the struggle.

After sitting out the remainder of 2006, Gagne pitched well in 31 games for Texas in 2007, but was traded to Boston and soon lost his remaining effectiveness, though he did end the 2008 season with 8 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He had a rather nondescript 2009 pitching in a Canadian independent league.

Thomas Harding of MLB.com said that in his workout for the Rockies earlier this week, Gagne looked “noticeably lighter.”

Partly to rebuild the small shoulder muscles and partly to avoid some of the back pain that affected him in recent years, Gagne took up Ja Shin Do, a mixed-martial-arts-based workout in an extremely hot room, taught by Scottsdale grandmaster Andy Bauman. Former Rockies pitchers Shawn Estes (now with the Nationals) and Jeff Fassero and Dodgers catcher Russell Martin undergo similar workouts.

The result, Gagne said, is he is in better condition and his arm is “the best it’s felt in three or four years, easy.”

Well, if Estes, Fassero and Martin are doing it …

Despite my skepticism, I’m rooting for Gagne to make it back.

Feb 17

Ned Colletti believes Randy Wolf ‘would have taken’ arbitration

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti was interviewed on Sirius XM radio’s “Power Alley” by Seth Everett and Jim Duquette (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy), and he gave this explanation of why the Dodgers didn’t offer Randy Wolf salary arbitration. I had heard this from sources off the record, but this was the first time I believe I’ve heard it on the record.

“The reason (we didn’t offer arbitration) was we thought he would take it,” Colletti said. “At $12-13 million a year, we weren’t prepared to do that. And you know what, the people I’ve talked to since, that are very close to him, say that ‘You know what, he would have taken it.’ And I wasn’t prepared to pay him $12-13 million for one year, nor was I prepared to pay him $8 or $9 million for three years.”

The last part of the comment refers to a scenario where Wolf would have leveraged the potential eight-figure annual salary into a multiyear contract that would have been cheaper annually but ultimately guaranteed him much more money.

I still believe that the Dodgers should have offered Wolf arbitration. I do feel that Wolf, who had 2 1/2 sub-par seasons in a row before turning things around in mid-2008, is poised to decline entering his age-34 season in 2010 – so despite how good he was for the Dodgers in 2009, if you’re convinced he was going to accept arbitration, there is a case that you can find better ways to spend money. Whether the Dodgers have done that or not is another matter.

Feb 17

Why Lindsey Jacobellis rocks

L’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe, mais le combat, l’essentiel ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.

“The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

– Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics
(credit for mentioning this quote goes to Bob Timmermann)

* * *

When Andruw Jones smiled after striking out for the gazillionth time with the Dodgers, it angered fans. The smile was pretty clearly a coping mechanism — no one would think that Jones was happy about striking out — but it roiled fans because it was pretty clear Jones hadn’t done nearly his best in preparing for the 2008 season after signing a huge contract with the Dodgers. With his smile, Jones helped reinforce the feeling fans had that he just didn’t care, that he was just in it for the money.

When Lindsey Jacobellis did the snowboarder’s equivalent of a smile Tuesday, it was something else entirely.

In Vancouver, after four more years of intense preparation since a mistake she made cost her an Olympic gold medal in Italy, Jacobellis went for the gold again. And it didn’t go well for her. After some jockeying for position in the women’s snowboard cross semifinals, she lost balance and made contact with a gate, disqualifying her.

“She made a helpless gesture and put her hands on her race helmet, having to make the long trip down the course,” wrote Lisa Dillman of the Times.

None of us are in position to evaluate her disappointment, but it’s safe to say that she felt it more personally and intimately than anyone else.

At that point, Jacobellis had a choice, conscious or unconscious. The battle was lost. Should she bury her head, rend her garments? Or should she celebrate all the work she had put in and her sheer enjoyment of her sport? She chose the latter — at which point Bill Plaschke of the Times chastised Jacobellis for not being sufficiently ashamed.

… Remember how four years ago in Turin, Italy, Jacobellis blew a gold medal when she attempted a trick on her final jump, eating snow and finishing second? Remember how she was criticized for putting snowboard style ahead of gold-medal substance?

Well, on Tuesday, she finished with another trick, clutching her board during the final jump of her disqualified run, finishing her eventually fifth-place Olympic performance with something called a “truck-driver grab.”

Eighteen wheels of defiance.

“Since everyone was waiting for me to come down, they’d be watching, I figured I would have some fun, show them I still have a deep passion for the sport,” she said later. “If you haven’t snowboarded before, maybe you should, because it’s pretty fun.”

Fun? The world’s most decorated female snowboard cross racer fails to win a gold medal twice in two Olympics and still insists on showing everyone she’s having fun?

In case it’s not clear, Plaschke wasn’t being sarcastic. If you read the rest of the column, as I did incredulously, Plaschke is questioning the gall of an athlete who wants to be happy — even in the face of profound disappointment.

Jacobellis wasn’t smiling with a big gut and a .158 batting average. She was smiling after putting out her absolute best effort and then not having the breaks go her way. If Sandy Koufax strikes you out in the 1965 World Series, you get angry over the strikeout — just like Jacobellis did. But if you did all you could, how much more upset are you supposed to be?

Do you think Jacobellis comes anywhere near the Olympics if winning didn’t matter at all to her? No one was punished more by Jacobellis’ failure to win a gold medal Tuesday than Jacobellis herself. Plaschke moves on to a new sport today, but for Jacobellis, this is her life. He is not qualified to tell her how she should feel.

On top of that, Plaschke is thunderstruck that Jacobellis did not want to hold interviews with the press who, in Plaschke’s own words, “ripped her four years ago, folks who she believes will never understand the culture of her game.” This one doesn’t exactly belong in “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Plaschke went on Twitter this morning with a series of generalizations that confirm his not-so-occasional myopia. A sample: “Male figure skaters are, like, great athletes who squabble like teenage girls…Women figure skaters are divas who fight like men.” Sheesh.

He acknowledges in one breath, “Sports columnists here are strangest creatures of all…We analyze people we don’t know playing sports we don’t understand.” In the next, he writes about how its his task to judge them.  He doesn’t seem to connect that if he’s not capable of judging them, then maybe he just shouldn’t.

Lindsey Jacobellis is my new role model. She threw herself into competition at a level few of us could possibly emulate, sacrificed so that she might be the best, and when that failed to yield the ultimate prize, instead of curling up in the fetal position, she had the self-esteem and presence of mind to appreciate the greatness of the effort and the joy of what she was part of, win or lose. I want my kids to be like her.