Monthly archives: November 2007
Dodger Rehab Update
From Ken Gurnick at MLB.com:
Trainer Stan Conte said all injured Dodgers are on schedule to be competitive in Spring Training. Specifically, Jason Schmidt (shoulder surgery) has just begun to toss. Brad Penny (sports hernia) and Derek Lowe (hip labrum) finished the season healthy and required no surgery. Hong-chih Kuo (elbow surgery) is on his normal offseason program. Tony Abreu (hernia surgery) has completed his initial recovery and is about to resume baseball activities. Rafael Furcal (ankle sprain) feels good enough to be considering winter ball. Nomar Garciaparra (calf) is undergoing his normal offseason rehab and training regimen. Chin-lung Hu (hamstring) has recovered and will join the Taiwan national team. Yhency Brazoban (shoulder surgery) is about to begin bullpen sessions. Jason Repko (hamstring surgery, ankle stress fracture) is resting the ankle, but the hamstring is healed. Minor Leaguers Scott Elbert (shoulder surgery) and Bryan Morris (elbow surgery) are also expected to be ready for Spring Training.
I haven't mentioned Kuo's name here in a while, but I'd love to see him back in the mix for a starting spot.
Handball, Domestic and International
Though it has nothing to do with the Dodgers, I've been hanging onto this to write about for a couple of months. Back in October, Marcia C. Smith of the Register wrote a column describing how Jake Plummer left the NFL at age 32, despite the constant call for healthy and somewhat able quarterbacks, for the shinier but lower-profile pastures of handball.
He announced his retirement on the Jake Plummer Foundation Web site, met a few minutes with Denver reporters and disappeared into the pro sports backwoods of his family's Idaho home, never to be seen or heard from again.
Until last Thursday, which was like Any Given Thursday.
"What's your name?" the silver-haired, yellow-highlighter-wielding woman asked this above-average-sized handball player 6-feet-2 and an oak-trunk 212 pounds in T-shirt, cargo shorts and slip-on shoes at the Simple Green U.S. Open of Handball at the Los Caballeros Sports Village in Fountain Valley.
"I'm Jake Plummer," he told the woman at event registration. She found his name, handed him some tear-off paper boxed-meal tickets and quickly shifted her attention to the next participant in line.
The Associated Press wrote more about this back in March.
Now, the reason I brought this up is not because I have a handball story, but because I have an international handball story. And though I realize those two sports really have nothing to do with each other, I don't know when I'll have a better excuse to tell my international handball tale.
I spent the fall quarter of my junior year of college overseas in Tours, France. It was a wonderful time, one of the highlights of my life, as I loved both being in France as well as the opportunity to travel around nearly every weekend (not to mention for the four weeks prior to classes). I could go on and on about it, but one of the few downsides (other than having an experience remarkably similar to this one) was that I became a little starved for sport. Basketball, softball, ultimate Frisbee, mud football these are not popular sports on the streets of the Loire Valley.
So when I saw a flyer saying that they were people were gathering to play international handball at a local gym, I urged my friends to join me and go. I had never played, but I knew the rules from having been something of an Olympics nerd at the time. It seemed like it would combine elements of hoops and ultimate, and if nothing else, let me shake out the sillies (to quote a future line from Newsradio.) I even proactively indulged dreams that if I took to it, who knows, maybe I could seek out an Olympic future after all, how many Americans actually played the game?
Most of my memories of how the game went are sketchy. We went down there, and teams were divided up in pickup fashion. The sport, perhaps predictably, perhaps not, was harder than it looked. The dribbling isn't quite dribbling a basketball, and it was awkward trying to exploit the extra step you can take without dribbling (imagine if all the uncalled traveling you see in the NBA were actually legal). And there is a strategy to the game which I had really no idea about. Nonetheless, I was having a reasonably good time.
And then going for a ball, my friend Jim White knocked heads with a Frenchman, and two little objects flew out of his mouth.
What was supposed to be a night of plain ol' fun turned into a quest to save Jim's two front teeth from international oblivion taking him to the emergency room, trying to find a dentist, all that nervousness and distress about being injured thousands of miles from home.
The teeth were salvaged, but not my dreams of Olympic glory.
Jake Plummer, may you have better luck in your latest endeavor.
Happy Birthday, Vin and Ross
Yep - once again, the birthdays of Scully and Porter fall on the same day! All my best to both.
I was half Vinny's age on Friday, November 23: 79.98356164 compared to 39.99178082.
Not a Retiring 42
Greg Maddux will earn a reported $10 million from the Padres next season at age 42, coming off a year in which he had an ERA+ of 98 (over 198 innings), the worst season of his career. Would you rather have him or Esteban Loaiza (36 on New Year's Eve) for a year at $7 million? Loaiza's lifetime ERA+, coincidentally, is 98.
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"The sharp increase in MLB revenue coupled with a slower increase in salaries brings teams closer to the point where all can afford premium talent, not just the richest clubs," writes David Pinto at SportingNews.com.
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From Dominican Today:
Former Los Angeles Dodger slugger and now deputy Raul Mondesi after a meeting with president Leonel Fernandez yesterday decided to continue backing the ruling PLD party and the reelection bid, just hours after vowing to support opposition PRD party presidential candidate, Miguel Vargas.
The newspaper El Nacional said deputy Mondesi who won his seat after resigning from the also opposition PRSC party - met with Vargas on Wednesday and said he was willing to support his candidacy, but Fernandez invited the ex-big leaguer to the National Palace just hours afterwards, when he again vowed to support the re-election.
Vargas said in the two meetings which the former outfielder requested, Mondesi had expressed his disgust with the PLD, for alleged broken promises.
(Thanks to Andrew Breitbart for the link.)
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Barr rolls his eyes and smiles whenever he hears Starkey's call. Barr is Red Barber to Starkey's Russ Hodges, best remembered for his screaming reaction to Bobby Thomson's famous home run in 1951: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
Barber, the Dodgers radio voice, went silent on air for 59 seconds for dramatic effect. He later criticized Hodges' rendition for lacking journalistic integrity.
Barr is more considerate of Starkey's call of The Play. He knows Starkey's cracking voice will forever be linked with it. ...
To this day, Barr claims that out of the corner of his eye he saw an official on the far sideline, 20 or so yards downfield from The Play, lift and wave his arms as if to signal the end of the game as Garner pitched the ball to Rodgers. Barr says that a wide-angle still photograph of The Play that appeared in a Bay Area newspaper 10 years later appears to show an official with his arms over his head. Barr believes that Garner's knee touched the ground before he pitched the ball to Rodgers.
"What is interesting and what I'm probably most proud of is the fact that unlike Joe I got it right," Barr said, smiling. "That's the single-most satisfaction I get out of the game."
More than one columnist has written recently that the Dodgers need to do something even if that something is stupid to show that they're serious about winning.
Yes, in multiple articles, columnists have actually cited bad deals as examples the Dodgers should follow. Better to move than stand still, they say even if that movement is backwards.
I don't think there are too many people who want the Dodgers to stand pat. No matter your beliefs, no matter how much you love the Dodgers younger players, you're going to see places to improve an 82-win team.
But it seems to be a somewhat radical view in Mainstreamland to advocate only for positive change, rather than change for change's sake.
Most would love to see Johan Santana pitching for the Dodgers next year, for example. Maybe it will happen after all, it's only November. But at some point, the price for Santana may well become too steep to be sensible, because if you're going to end up giving him the richest pitcher contract in history, you might want to have some talent (even better low-cost talent) to support him, rather than leaving the cupboard bare for him. And certainly, you don't want to give up major talent for Santana only to lose him a year later to free agency. It's the Kobe conundrum, isn't it?
So, if it becomes senseless to trade for Santana at this point, does it make sense to substitute a shaky pitcher for him, just for the sake of doing so? That's how you get Brett Tomko, folks. Or even Esteban Loaiza. Or as a few sages would have said, even before last season, Jason Schmidt.
I'm concerned that Matt Kemp's low-walk totals could keep him from being a true superstar instead of a superior version of Juan Encarnacion. I don't think James Loney is going to homer at the rate he did last September, But I do know that whatever their limitations are, they can improve the Dodgers just by getting more at-bats next season. Just by playing the right guys, the team will be making positive changes.
The starting rotation is more complicated. Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Chad Billingsley are set, but as far as the final two spots in the rotation go, Jason Schmidt, Esteban Loaiza and James McDonald might be below-average in April, because of age (old or young) and/or health. It's dicey to go into the season with those five.
Me, I'd be willing to spend money to sign an extra starting pitcher as insurance but only if he doesn't block McDonald or Clayton Kershaw long-term. I'm perfectly happy to overpay for someone if that pitcher isn't an albatross someone you start out of obligation. You always have to be willing to let the right pitchers be in the rotation, regardless of their contracts.
If you're going to waste money, you have to be willing to waste it. You have to be willing to admit that what might have made sense at some point stops making sense at another point. (That's assuming it ever made sense at all.)
Barring that, I look at Lowe, Penny, Billingsley, Schmidt and Loaiza and see, really at worst, three sub-4.00 ERAs and two sub-5.00 ERAs. That's not a golden rotation, but as I wrote for SI.com earlier this year, that's not as bad as you might think nobody gets five pitchers with above-average ERAs. And it keeps the door open for a talented minor leaguer to break through without any grief.
Adding another sub-5.00 ERA to the mix might not hurt the Dodgers if they use him correctly, but it isn't really going to help the team a whole lot. The Dodgers already have that kind of arm in their minor-league system.
Sometimes, not spending money is cheap. Other times, it's prudent. We can all disagree on where to make the distinction, but if you don't accept that there is a distinction, you're lost.
Update: Jerry Crasnick surveys the starting pitching market at ESPN.com.
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If you're on the roster, please let me know your position - via the comments. If you're not on the roster yet but want to be, let me know your number and position. (For entertainment purposes only.)
Had a tremendous day, spending most of it at Franklin Canyon reading and doing a spot of hiking. Your comments in the previous thread really buoyed my spirits and squelched my embarrassment at doing the post to begin with, and all in all, I feel recharged.
Adds Al Balderas of the Register:
"We have two outfielders, a first baseman and a catcher," Colletti said. "They have really come into their own. They are still reasonably young, but they have almost two years of big league experience and two pennant races."
If Andy LaRoche can take third base from Nomar Garciaparra in spring training, the Dodgers would have five starters with less than two years of experience.
Today's the day I stop worrying about turning 40. Because it's done, and there's nothing I can do about it, except remind myself to be grateful that I've gotten this far.
Over the past week, there has been terrible news. An acquaintance has been killed, a baseball player died, friends and family both received very concerning health news. Everything I need to put my life in perspective is here. I have been given great gifts. I just wish I felt better about how I was using them.
My misgivings about turning 40 have been considerable, but not rising from a general discomfort with growing old - though, I have to say, that number 40 seems as huge today as 30 once did (knowing full well that in 10 years time, both will seem impossibly young). It's been this feeling that I've been moving backward as much as I've been moving forward.
That is really a stupid thought, given all that has happened in the past decade. Ten years ago, I was single and barely employed. Today, I am 7 1/2 years into marriage, with two children and - Breaking News - a third one on the way, a second little boy, coming right around the time the Dodgers will make their Coliseum appearance in March. (Talk about your Moon Shots!)
My career, after a pretty major detour, has also been on an upswing since last year - and that's a relief. And Dodger Thoughts has been an unexpectedly rewarding pleasure.
But during the past 10 years, I abandoned the career that I really wanted, and to this day I regret the decision. A few somewhat out-of-touch acquaintances of mine this month have asked me if I were on strike (with the Writers Guild of America), and I found myself feeling sad to say that I wasn't.
I wish I were screenwriting. In fact, I have an idea burning a hole in the pocket of my brain right now, but I have no time to work on it. Screenwriting, for me, is not like blogging. In the time that it takes me to get out what would qualify as a medium-to-long post on Dodger Thoughts, I'd just be getting warmed up to work on a script. That first hour of screenwriting was more like calisthenics than anything else. My life, these days, simply isn't conducive to writing fiction.
But it's not just the notion of a dream deferred or denied that has had me down. It's that with the passing of that dream has come the passing of any chance of being worry-free when it comes to income. The fact is, short of actually being a working Hollywood writer, my job at Variety is about as happy a situation as I could have found. But it's journalist pay. Nothing much there.
I can't think of much that is more distasteful than complaining about money, and the fact is, I make more than plenty of people. So my point isn't to cry poverty. It's just to articulate this reality that my income isn't keeping up with how much I'm spending on day-to-day life, even though I'm trying to keep those expenses to a minimum. This year, in fact, I will have made more money than I ever had before, and yet I'm still not earning what I need to. I've gone from fiscally responsible to irresponsible, with each passing year getting harder, regardless of what I should be earning or spending. That's why I feel like I'm moving backward. I spend a great deal of time worrying. I find myself talking about it with other people even though it's the last thing I want to talk about, because it's so inexorably a part of what's going on with me in my head. Money matters more to me than I could have ever dreamed possible 10 years ago - it's poisoning my life. But moving to a cabin in Montana isn't an option.
Ten years ago, I had sincere fears of hitting 40 lonely, not in financial decline. If it's not one thing, it's another. I don't feel sorry for myself. I feel fortunate. I love this family of mine. But I'm just sharing with you that, in all honesty, when I see those bills, I have to remind myself to feel good about myself. It's embarrassing, really.
Another place where I'm suffering is with my friends. In the past month, by coincidence, my best friend from college and my best friend from high school came into town for the first time since my wedding, and I had the chance to catch up with them for a couple hours apiece. Each time, with no effort, we fell into that incredible groove of conversation that best friends have. And then they were gone, eventually heading back to Michigan and Colorado. I still have my best best friend sleeping in the same bed with me, and my parents 10 minutes away (and don't think I underestimate that). But aside from them, I just don't really have anybody that tight. All my closest friends live elsewhere, and we're horrible at keeping in touch. It's just not right.
Perhaps most importantly - and this should be clear by the melancholy tone of this piece - I'm not entirely happy with the person I am, about how I can be angry and selfish and self-defeating. It's not that I don't have my good qualities, but I don't really feel like I'm evolving. I'm meeting some of the greater challenges of my life, but I'm not keeping pace. As my world becomes centered around getting my work done, and making sure I give my kids what they need instead of screwing them up, and trying to juggle my pregnant wife's prayer to get 15 more minutes of sleep in against my desire to have 15 minutes to myself, I feel more like I'm devolving, unless the fact that my life belongs more to others is the real evolution. I often tell people that now, the days take longer but the years fly by. It's the strangest thing.
If I could give myself completely to my family, or take myself completely away, I'd be happy. But I find myself want to straddle the two, which are contradictory. Me Time vs. Them Time. Why can't Them Time be Me Time 100 percent instead of less?
People can minimize it all they want, but these round-numbered birthdays are times that I take stock, and looking at myself, I see a complicated picture. I see things to celebrate, even to take pride in. But I don't always take pride in myself. Just trying to survive each day and punch out a few good moments without screwing up doesn't seem like much to crow about.
I'd like to say I love my life, but love implies accepting the good and the bad, let alone the simply irritating, and I struggle. My family can be a trial at times, but it gives me a kind of joy you simply can't otherwise imagine, and I can honestly say that my favorite moment of any day are the moments that I walk my little girl to kindergarten, or hugging the kids good night. But I keep wanting perfection. I'm 40 years old and still a spoiled brat.
(I debated whether to share this all with you, but I decided that who better to know how spoiled I am than the readers of Dodger Thoughts.)
Anyway, when I went to bed Sunday, I turned out the light, looked at my clock glowing with its LCD display, prepared to tick off the last 45 minutes of my 30s, and said to myself, "Screw it. I'm just going to be a young 40." It's going to take some effort, but it's pretty much the only way to go.
And on that note ... go Dodgers!
In the book, we learn that many of Lasorda's players from his minor league days are still close to him, especially Bobby Valentine and Bill Buckner. But we also learn that the Dodgers of today just don't want to spend time listening to Lasorda spin his yarns over and over again. Plaschke seems to think this is a failing of modern players, although from the book you get the impression that Lasorda is not the sort of person you want to get seated next to on an airplane that's stuck on a taxiway for six hours because of bad weather. Lasorda's stories can go on indefinitely. And some of them have kernels of truth, but many seem embroidered out of whole cloth.
Plaschke doesn't press Lasorda too much on his three most prominent managerial failures: the 1980 tiebreaker playoff loss to Houston, the loss to the Giants on the last day of the 1982 season that gave the Braves the division, and the decision to have Tom Niedenfuer pitch to Jack Clark in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 NLCS. Lasorda just says he made a bad decision and moves on. Interestingly, Lasorda thinks that he should have given Valenzuela the start in the 1980 playoff and both he and Plaschke (and the editors of the book) failed to note that Valenzuela had pitched the day before (for two innings) and he was unlikely to last long in the game on zero days rest.
Lasorda's two World Series wins, 1981 and 1988, are given big play by Plaschke and both of them, predictably, give a lot of credit to Lasorda for motivating the Dodgers to win. In Plaschke's view, the Dodgers beat the Mets and A's in 1988 by the sheer power of Lasorda's personality.
After Lasorda stepped down as manager in 1996 after suffering a heart attack (Lasorda claims he quit solely because his wife insisted he do so), the book starts to jump off the rails ...
While I could find examples of players with lousy plate discipline struggling after success at an early age, (Ellis Valentine, Rich Coggins, Alex Johnson, Dave Roberts) I also found examples of players who struggled that had good or even excellent plate discipline (Curt Blefary, Ben Grieve, Bernie Carbo).
I counted about 13 players who I would consider flame outs. Players who had excellent success at an early age but for whatever reason were unable to put together a solid career.
I counted about 18 players who I considered to have "good" careers. These players had a total (WARP3 greater then 40 and less then 80) and whose EQA was below 300.
I counted about 21 players who I considered to have "great" careers but fell short of the HOF. Some of them might even belong in the HOF. These players either played a position such as catcher(Freehan, Porter, Torre, Simmons) and had excellent EQA's and WARP3's or were position players who had EQA's above .295 and WARP3 totals above 80.
I counted 18 HOF players.
I counted 6 active players who I expect to make the HOF very easily.
Putting aside his idle notion that Jason Schmidt will be "healthier than ever," Frank McCourt's interview with the Boston Globe is pleasantly rational. Particular points for downplaying the clubhouse traumas.
Thanks to Ken Noe for the link.
The Angels laid all the Torii Hunter speculation to waste Wednesday night, swooping in undetected to get the centerfielder (with a stunner of a five-year, $90 million contract) just like they did with the now underpaid Vladimir Guerrero.
Can you believe Gary Matthews Jr. and Juan Pierre may now both spend time in left field?
Regardless, no doubt this will heighten speculation about what the Dodgers will do. Me, I'm going to spend this holiday the same way I always intended - hoping the Dodgers are rational in whatever they do without wasting a minute trying to predict, because you can't predict. You can only hope that the turkey's juicy and that somehow, some way, you get a nap.
Happy Thanksgiving, folks.
Because my coverage of the Dodger minor leagues has really suffered in the past couple of years, I let go of some of my Dodger Thoughts control issues and invited commenter CanuckDodger earlier this month to comment on the Dodgers' efforts on the international amateur market. That seemed to be a big success, so enjoy his piece today on Tuesday's changes to the Dodgers' 40-man roster:
The Dodgers' latest changes to their 40-man roster, in preparation for December's Rule 5 draft, mix the predictable with the astounding, which is, these days, true to type for the organization. The additions of RHP James McDonald, OF Xavier Paul, RHP Ramon Troncoso, RHP Justin Orenduff, and RHP Cory Wade to the roster were all expected, certainly. Even the removal of LHP Mike Megrew from the roster had the odor of inevitability about it, after RHP Zach Hammes had already lost his roster spot, weeks ago, because of the twin killers of a disappointing Double A season similar to Megrew's and the need to free up roster space. But the additions to the roster of RHP Mario Alvarez and C Lucas May, and the omission of LHP Wesley Wright? As Damon Wayans' character exclaims in the 1994 film Blankman, "Well, slap me silly and call me Susan!"
Mario Alvarez has never pitched above high A, and in Alvarez's three seasons in the U.S., since he came over from the Dominican Republic, the best season ERA he has produced has been 5.60, which he put up just this past year. Listed at 6 feet, 150 pounds, Alvarez has been described as looking like a shortstop on a pitcher's mound, and scouts scorn scrawniness in right-handed pitchers when they overlook it in southpaws, for arcane reasons known only to their fraternity. In addition to lacking size, Alvarez doesn't have good command, or a good feel for pitching, and his curve and changeup are unreliable - a litany of shortcomings that would be more forgivable in a minor league pitcher younger than 23. But Alvarez can throw his heater in the mid-90s, and sometimes - and apparently in Alvarez's case in particular - that's all that matters. The Dodgers clearly don't want to take a chance on losing Alvarez's arm, even though he has never pitched in Double A, and notwithstanding that he has been clobbered everywhere he has pitched since the Dominican Summer League in 2004. Honestly, had Alvarez been left exposed for the Rule 5 draft, I think it's a good bet other organizations would have left him alone, and if one did take him, Alvarez probably couldn't make or stick on an MLB 25-man roster. Whether Alvarez will ever be able to stick on an MLB roster is very much an open question, in my mind.
It hasn't gone unnoticed by Dodger fans who have scrutinized Logan White's drafts over the years that White has never targeted power hitters in the top couple of rounds in his drafts. White, the ex-pitcher, prefers to pop pitchers that early, and on the rare occasions when he has gone for a position player in the top two rounds, he has opted for young men who are "pure hitters," or in the case of Preston Mattingly, a pure basketball player. Perhaps that's why, after six Logan White drafts, the purest slugger in the Dodgers' farm system might be catcher Lucas May, who was drafted as a shortstop out of a Missouri high school in the eighth round in 2003. May's bad defense got him banished from shortstop to the outfield before his strong arm and an organizational dearth of catcher prospects prompted his conversion to catcher in instructional league just last year. As a catcher, May is still very much a work in progress, and he may never be sufficiently adequate at the position to play it in the majors, but at the plate May puts enough of a wallop on the ball that he managed to slug .465 in 2007 while batting only .256. As with Alvarez's fastball, May's power seems to have induced the Dodgers to overlook multiple glaring weaknesses that cast a big shadow over May's prospects for the future. But more to the point, knowing how much importance MLB teams place on their backup catchers being defensively sound, it's hard to believe May could have made a 25-man roster in 2008, let alone lasted a whole season on one. Also, this year, May hit for too low an average, and got on base by walking too infrequently - at the single A level, no less - for there to have been even a remote hope that he could have had value as an extra outfielder and "emergency" catcher on an MLB team next year.
There's a price to be paid for wasting roster spots on players like Alvarez and May, who were not only unlikely to draw interest in the Rule 5 draft, but are longshots to be of value to the Dodgers' MLB team even after two more seasons in the minors, barring their development hitting overdrive from this point forward. I thought Wesley Wright - who was drafted one round before May in 2003, out of an Alabama high school - was sure to make the Dodgers' 40-man roster. Unlike Alvarez and May, Wright has performed above high A, doing quite well in Double A in 2007 (2.49 ERA, with 68 K's in 61.1 innings), and he even made it up to Triple A this past season (where he performed poorly, indicating that that promotion was a "bridge too far" for Wright, just yet). Wright resembles Alvarez physically, but diminutiveness, like mortal sins and felonies, is never held against left-handed pitchers in the world of baseball. Wright has a better curveball than Alvarez, and his fastball sits in the low 90s and reached the mid-90's. While RHP Jonathan Meloan, a prized prospect, and Wright were part of the same bullpen in Triple A, Wright's fastball lit up Vegas's stadium radar gun better than Meloan's fastball. No doubt Wright needs to improve his control and command, and he's not really ready for the majors, but he's closer to being ready for that level than Alvarez, and his combination of left-handedness and power stuff will make him much more attractive to other organizations in the Rule 5 draft than Alvarez would have been.
When the Rule 5 draft is held in December, at the Winter Meetings, I think only a minor miracle will keep us from losing Wesley Wright. He's not guaranteed to make or stick on a 25-man roster in 2008, but a non-contending MLB team will take greater pains to hide Wright as a bullpen mop-up man than would have been spent hiding Alvarez in the same role, were Alvarez somehow picked. Now, it's possible that the Dodgers know something about Wright that hasn't been told to the public - such as Wright is hurt, or the Dodgers suspect his arm will fall off soon - but outside of that possibility, the Dodgers' protecting Alvarez over Wright is a monumental head-scratcher, and in my opinion, represents a Dodger front-office miscalculation. But, alas, such miscalculations are something to which the current Dodger front-office personnel are very far from strangers.
The 38-Man Roster
The Dodgers announced today that they added Xavier Paul, Lucas May, James McDonald, Ramon Troncoso, Justin Orenduff, Mario Alvarez and Cory Wade to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft. The team outrighted Mike Megrew and kept two roster spots open.
November 19 Open Chat
For baseball talk and the usual stuff ...
Gibby's Homer: A Children's Story
Tonight, I read to my kids Gibby's Homer, the first book in the Daddy's Heroes series, written by Tom Garcia and Karun Naga and illustrated by Jenifer J. Donnelly. It was a fun read, and my kids seemed to enjoy it even though Dodger baseball, for the most part, still means the ambivalent prospect of having to sit in a loud stadium for two hours or so.
My daughter found the story exciting, but her favorite part was this:
Tommy loved to eat Italian food, especially pasta.
Same with her!
From Ken Gurnick at MLB.com:
Dodgers fans alarmed by the names and numbers of prospects demanded in return for a slugger like Miguel Cabrera are not alone. Ned Colletti sounds alarmed, too.
"Any player that you would consider a middle-of-the-order bat, a run producer, as predicted, the cost of the prospects going back, at least in our minds, far exceeds the value of the player," the Dodgers general manager said Friday. "It's not one prospect, it's not two prospects, but in some cases it's three or four prospects. And our prospects are no longer prospects. They are big league players that continue to get asked about. ...
"We're still on a mission to try to find it and cure it," Colletti said of an upgrade. "If that fails, we'll try to improve the club, even if it means the 25th man or the last pitcher. Right now, trade-wise, its a lot of bait-and-switch. We thought we had a deal the other day, but they got cold feet at the end." ...
Colletti's idea of what constitutes improvement still concerns me. (And no, he didn't elaborate on what that trade would have been.) But you can't say (for once?) there aren't signs of an awareness of what he has.
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A year ago, after J.D. Drew opted out of his Dodger contract, Colletti was left with outfield options consisting primarily of Marlon Anderson, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Jason Repko, Jayson Werth (injured throughout 2006) and James Loney. (Remember, until his June mashup with the right-field wall, Loney was a contender to play outfield.) Though a number of people would have been happy to choose from this group, none of them had played a full season as a starting major-league outfielder.
With that in mind, Colletti signed Juan Pierre. (The anniversary of that signing will be Tuesday.) Even then, it was doubtful that Pierre deserved a starting spot on the Dodgers. But Colletti valued his speed, experience, durability and ability to aggregate.
Flash forward to the present. Werth and Anderson are gone. Luis Gonzalez has come and gone. Loney is a first baseman for the rest of his life. The in-house outfield options are Ethier, Kemp, Pierre, Repko (in the Werth lost-year role), Delwyn Young and Andy LaRoche (in the Loney flights-of-position-switching-fancy role).
Ethier and Kemp are better than Pierre in no-contest fashion. Even factoring in Pierre's speed, Ethier boasts an EQA of .267, .019 higher than Pierre. The difference between Kemp and Pierre is too big to see without Cinemascope. Almost any other major-league outfielder, given Pierre's opportunities, would do more with them.
Right now, even without a new acquisition, it is a fair question to ask whether Pierre deserves to be the third outfielder in the starting lineup particularly so if the Dodgers decide Kemp is their center fielder. You can't hide Young or LaRoche in center, but you could hide them in left if you had a mind to.
However, should the Dodgers sign a free-agent outfielder, it raises questions about Pierre's future in Los Angeles. In no way should one play Pierre in left field ahead of Ethier, let alone Kemp.
So if Colletti signs a free-agent outfielder, here are his options:
1) Trade Kemp for a big prize.
There's a belief out there that Pierre could never be benched or traded a belief underscored by the Dodgers' refusal to not rest him once in the second half of 2007. But that was then. Colletti has bigger concerns than saving face on his mistaken Pierre signing namely, saving his job. And for all of the talk of Colletti not wanting to give in on the Pierre signing for image reasons, why would he want to give up Ethier, whose acquisition is considered by many to be one of his highpoints?
Perhaps that leaves Kemp as the most likely trade option but frankly, there aren't that many available trades outside of Miguel Cabrera or Johan Santana that Kemp could be included in because he's too good to go for someone lesser.
We don't know what's going to happen, but I wouldn't rule anything out not even the Dodgers showing up at Spring Training with Kemp, Ethier, Pierre and a free-agent outfielder, with Ethier (and to a lesser extent, Young and Repko) making bids to cut into Pierre's playing time.
In that case, Pierre will be the incumbent, just like Nomar Garciaparra will be the incumbent over Andy LaRoche at third base. And Pierre still might not be perceived as a problem offensively to Colletti, even if he so obviously is. At the same time, as shown by the disposals of players like Brett Tomko and Danys Baez, as evidenced by Pierre potentially being deposed from center field, even Colletti has his limits. Pierre isn't untouchable.
Howell and the Madeleines
Ken Howell, promoted from AAA Las Vegas to become the Dodgers' new bullpen coach, evokes fond feelings in a Proustian way for me - though I'm not sure why.
It might have to do with his rookie season, when he showed some promise. Not that I would have looked at him that closely back then, but for a 10-game period, he pitched 15 2/3 shutout innings, walking one and striking out 18. But honestly, I'm not convinced that's it.
Still, I'm happy to see the guy work his way back to the majors as a coach.
Rick Honeycutt and Mariano Duncan are back. Bob Schaefer (not the CBS newsman) will be the bench coach, and Manny Mota, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, "is expected to return, although details have not been finalized."
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The Dodgers announced that on Monday, there will be a ceremonial groundbreaking of their new spring training home in Glendale, Arizona - and that renderings of the facility will be unveiled.
No word on what kind of ceremony will be held for the Dodgers' departure from Vero Beach.
Wigging on Miggy
Assuming the Yankees' rapprochement with Alex Rodriguez eliminates his Dodger future, the Dodgers are at a crossroads.
They can pursue a trade for Florida All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera, probably costing them at least a starting pitcher and two starting position players. The Dodgers could then sign free agents to make up the difference.
Potentially, you would be replacing Andy LaRoche, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw with Cabrera, Torii Hunter and Kyle Lohse. The latter group would cost tens of millions more than the former, but let's say hypothetically that money is no object.
Kemp (.295 EQA at age 22-23 last season) is better than Hunter (.277 EQA at age 31-32 last season, career high of .282), even factoring in Hunter's defense. Kershaw should be better than Lohse (ERA+ of 100 at age 28 last season, career-high of 106) within a year. Does the difference between Cabrera and LaRoche make up for that?
Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis, for one, felt LaRoche was a better option than Rodriguez.
"I think the Dodgers would be much better off just going with LaRoche rather than playing an older guy or shelling out $30 million-plus a year for Alex Rodriguez," Callis told me in an e-mail. "He got off to slow start last year while overcoming soreness in his non-throwing shoulder, but he raked after that. He's not just a one-dimensional masher, as he can hit for power and average and play a solid third base. He should be healthy as he gets further away from his 2006 shoulder surgery. I really like him."
Cabrera won't earn $30 million a year with the Dodgers, and I am certainly intrigued by him. With EQAs of .319 or better each of the past three years, the Dodgers haven't seen a hitter like him in their lineup since Shawn Green (at his peak) and Gary Sheffield. And LaRoche's shoulder concerns me less than his back, which gave him trouble late last season.
If you make the trade and sign the free agents, you improve the team for 2008. And after 20 years with one playoff victory, maybe that's all that matters. You don't worry about the fact that the package you give up could be better in 2009 than what you have now. If Hunter goes into firm decline and Kershaw goes into Pedro Martinez mode, you just deal with it. If Cabrera leaves as a free agent in two years, you just deal with it.
You'd still have Russell Martin, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billinglsey, Andre Ethier, Chin-Lung Hu, James McDonald ...
So why am I still torn?
A Juan Pierre-Hunter-Ethier outfield leaves me cold.
Matt Kemp is as exciting a ballplayer I've seen in a Dodger uniform in a decade.
And I think I'd rather see Kershaw stumble as a Dodger than see him become the next Pedro as a Marlin.
So honestly, I don't know what to do. But here's what I think might happen. Florida will ask for a fourth player not Pierre - in addition to Kemp, LaRoche and Kershaw. Or, the Marlins will ask for Chad Billingsley, whose major league career path puts him ahead of Hall of Famer Don Sutton. And at that point, I would have no trouble balking at the deal.
Dodger Game at Coliseum Confirmed
Comments can continue in the thread below.
If I Had a Boat, I'd Go Out on the Ocean
And If I Had a Pony, I'd Ride It On My Boat
The Kamenetsky Brothers and David Neiman invited me to guest on their Purple, Gold, and Blue online show today, to talk mainly about the Dodgers, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera. And ponies.
My portion begins about 40 minutes in.
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From Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise: "The Dodgers have finalized a three-game series with the Red Sox from March 28-30 to conclude spring training, and one of the games is expected to be played at the Coliseum."
Update: Ken Gurnick of MLB.com says it's confirmed that the Dodgers will play at the Coliseum on Saturday, March 29.
How To Avoid Getting Your Arm Chopped Off by the Rumor Mill
Or, How To Survive the Hot Stove League Without Getting Burned
(Originally published October 10, 2006)
1) Rumors are not facts.
8) Hometown papers will often inflate the value of their own players, either on their own initative or that of their sources, and print particularly unrealistic trade packages.
Dodgers Lag in International Signing
Dodger Thoughts commenter CanuckDodger offers the following assessment of the Dodgers' efforts on the international amateur market:
When the Dodgers' scouting czar Logan White engaged in an online chat at Dodgers.com on June 12, he was asked, "Are the Dodgers looking to sign any top flight Latin American players?" White replied, "Absolutely." At that time, the next signing period for international amateur players was only a few weeks away. The window to sign Latin talent opened on July 2, and on July 7 Dominican Today quoted White as saying, "We're aggressive. We're going to spend money. The word is out the Dodgers are a player, baby." The problem with what Dominican Today quoted White as saying - aside from the fact that in 2007 the word "baby," used the way White used it, shouldn't be heard from or attributed to anyone who isn't a character in a rerun of Kojak - is that the Dodgers ended up being anything but a "player" in the market for Latin American talent. Again.
On the latest incarnation of my Top 30 Dodger Prospects list, there are only three players who were signed as international free agents, and two of them, RHP Ramon Troncoso and SS Chin-Lung Hu, were signed in 2002 and 2003 respectively. For three years after the Dodgers were bought by Frank McCourt, the Dodgers kept their efforts to bring young talent into the organization through the international amateur free agent market at the barest minimum. That was supposed to change when Logan White was promoted from Amateur Scouting Director for the Dodgers - a position that made White responsible only for the domestic draft and non-drafted free agents in the U.S. - to Assistant General Manager, Scouting, as White was specifically, publicly, given the job of reviving the Dodgers' moribund international scouting endeavors. And White was also supposed to be given the money to do the job right.
In the international signing period that lasted from July 2 to August 20, the Dodgers didn't sign a single player who ended up among the top 20 for signing bonuses received. The New York Yankees signed five such players, giving them bonuses that ranged from $500,000 to $1.1 million. The Seattle Mariners gave out two of the top five signing bonuses, awarding $1 million to one shortstop, and $800,000 to another. The Boston Red Sox made the largest expenditure of all for one player, with 3B Michael Almanzar collecting $1.5 million to sign with Boston. The Atlanta Braves made RHP Julio Teheran of Columbia the highest-paid pitcher, with a bonus of $850,000. The New York Mets and Texas Rangers each signed two players with bonuses of $550,000 or higher. And it wasn't just the larger market teams that opened their wallets. The San Diego Padres shelled out $750,000 for SS Jonathan Galvez, and gave $350,000 to OF Rymer Liriano. The Milwaukee Brewers snapped up OF Hitaniel Arias for $450,000. Even the penurious Kansas City Royals were of a mind to spend some money, inking one player for $250,000, another for $230,000, and another for $200,000, although not one of those three bonuses made the top 20.
One might wonder just how much the Dodgers were willing to spend on a single player during the international signing period. It's unknown if they put in bids on any of the pricier players available, but by all accounts the Dodgers regard their big "get" from the international signing period to be RHP Jose Dominguez, from the Dominican Republic, and he cost only $50,000. The Royals spent $200,000 to $250,000 on three different players, but all the cash the Dodgers could muster for their best signee was $50,000? Is that what Logan White was contemplating when he boasted that the Dodgers were going to be a "player" in the international market? Frankly, I am skeptical that the Dodgers spent a sufficient sum of money to even qualify as a "bit player." While other organizations, not all of them made of money, were shopping on Rodeo Drive, the Dodgers were rummaging through bins at a flea market - and one shabby enough to actually have fleas.
Logan White may well have had a mandate from Frank McCourt to get more talent out of Latin America than the Dodgers had been getting since McCourt took control of the Dodgers, and White almost certainly had to have more money for the task than McCourt was willing to spend before, but "more" is not the same thing as "enough." The Dodgers' budget to sign international amateur talent is still small, and the Dodgers' reputation in the international market is that they are still cheap. Scout.com's Bill Shelley claims that in the Dominican Republic the men who steer talented kids to MLB organizations - and take a cut of the kids' signing bonuses - outright avoid the Dodgers when they have kids whom they think are worth a million dollars or two, with Shelley quoting White as saying, "We don't get to talk to them. They know we won't pay that."
Since he took over responsibility for signing international amateurs, White's biggest signing has been that of 3B Pedro Baez, the sole international free agent from the McCourt era on my Top 30 Dodger Prospects list. But even that one player came very close to slipping through the Dodgers' fingers because of money. After Baez's agent accepted White's offer of a $200,000 signing bonus, the Red Sox offered more money. Bill Shelley quotes White, "The Red Sox and Yankees do that sort of thing. If they want a player, they'll simply top your offer." Fortunately for the Dodgers, Baez's agent had integrity. Baez had not yet signed a contract, and even though the agent could get more money for his client elsewhere, the agent felt honor-bound to accept the Dodgers' offer, because he had already agreed to it verbally.
Dodger fans don't expect their team to throw around tens of millions of dollars as liberally as the Yankees and Red Sox. At least the reasonable ones don't. But it should cause Dodger fans pause to consider that their team won't even match the Yankees and Red Sox when it comes to throwing around hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the last couple of years, the Yankees and Red Sox have improved their takes from the domestic draft simply by kicking a few extra million dollars into their draft budgets. The international market for amateur free agents is another area in which a relatively small investment can lead to rewards far out of proportion to the investment. In Bill James' recent ranking of the top 50 young MLB players in the game, seven of the players named had been signed as international amateur free agents. That might not seem like a lot measured against the 26 players on the list drafted out of high schools, or even the 13 drafted out of four-year colleges, but it is a good return given how much less money MLB teams collectively spend on international amateurs compared to how much money they pour into the draft.
This past summer, the Dodgers' failure to come up with the cash needed to sign RHP Kyle Blair - a legitimate first-round talent who fell to the Dodgers in the fifth round of the draft - could have been justified, albeit feebly, as a sacrifice on the altar of good citizenship in the MLB community, while other organizations, in defying the "slotting" system for bonuses, catered strictly to their self-interest. That excuse won't play for the international market. MLB places no restrictions, either formally or informally, on how much money can be spent on any individual international free agent, or how much money a team can spend on those players in total. Only misplaced frugality on Frank McCourt's part can account for why the Dodgers take a slingshot to a gunfight any time the Dodgers venture into the international amateur talent market. The Dodgers, a team that can be fairly said to have pioneered the scouting and signing of international players, are spitting on part of their own leagacy, and McCourt - not for the first time, nor, I'm sure, for the last - should be ashamed.
Update: The Logan White quote attributed to Dominican Today originally appeared in this Diamond Leung Press-Enterprise piece on the Dodgers' Dominican Republic presence.
Dodger Uniforms Commemorating the Team's Performance Since 1989 I Don't Want To See
Getting a Jump on Holiday Sales
In case you haven't noticed on the right-hand sidebar, you can now order a copy of the Vin Scully broadcast that I spotlighted in this column for SI.com. BaseballDirect, a licensed seller, is donating $5 from each sale to the American Red Cross to support of the California wildfires.
Also, I'm going to try to get another run of Dodger Thoughts T-shirts going in time for your holiday shopping. To give me an idea of how many we'd be printing, please indicate your interest in the comments below if you're able.
Finally ... in 2006, it was a quirky quixotic quest. In 2010, it'll probably be a cultural phenomenon. Catch a rising stroll with The Great Los Angeles Walk, led by friends-of-Dodger Thoughts Mike and Maria Schneider. Last year, the crew trod along Wilshire Boulevard all the way from downtown to the coastline. This year, Pico Boulevard will meet its match, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday in front of the landmark Coca-Cola Bottling Plant building.
Give Dodgertown a Proper Farewell
Let's weigh the importance of the Dodgers playing exhibition games in China next season against the importance of them playing a full schedule of exhibition games in their 60th and final season in Vero Beach, giving longtime and first-time visitors the biggest chance possible to see them there. No brainer, right? China can wait.
Bill Shaikin has more about the Dodgers' simmering controversy with their Vero Beach partners at the Times.
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In this article appearing at ESPN.com, Williams seems to agree.
"I don't think I have any plans to do something like that," Williams said.
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Dodger Thoughts commenter CanuckDodger offered this take on the team's preparations for the Rule 5 draft (to help explain why Chin-hui Tsao was ejected from the 40-man roster):
We need all of the roster spots that have been cleared for a good reason: we need to protect six minor leaguers from the Rule 5 draft. People have already mentioned (James) McDonald, (Justin) Orenduff and (Xavier) Paul as no-brainers. Somebody mentioned Cory Wade as a possible, but I think he is definitely in. The other two guys are Ramon Troncoso and Wesley Wright. If Wade, Troncoso and Wright are not protected, I guarantee they will be lost in the Rule 5 draft, and they are the kinds of arms that a non-competitive club would have no problem hiding on the 25-man roster, doing bullpen mop-up work if nothing else.
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Every Little Thing They Done Been Doing ...
An offseason update of affairs great and small ... starting with the latest news: Russell Martin adds a Silver Slugger award to his Gold Glove.
Management and coaching
Front office and staff
If I'm not mistaken, Tsao had to agree to accept his assignment to Las Vegas rather than become a free agent, which is interesting.
Upcoming Scully Book Causes Rift
Since Vin Scully has never authorized a biography, any book about him would have to be unauthorized. According to Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News, author Curt Smith is publishing one next year, and Scully is bummed.
Smith said he contacted Scully last February and asked him to co-author it as an autobiography. Scully again turned him down.
In September, Scully was informed that the book had been written anyway. Rob Menschel, one of the cameramen on the Dodgers' local TV broadcasts, discovered a press release announcing Smith's project.
"I was in shock, after specifically refusing the idea," said Scully. "I called him and (Smith) said the book was already done."
Smith, who says he has known Scully since the early 1980s, does not feel he overstepped his bounds in going ahead with a book on Scully's life, even without his approval.
"I respect his privacy and admire his modesty," said Smith from his home in Rochester, N.Y., where he's also a professor of English at the University of Rochester. "But what I've done is a book that I feel is honest and affectionate and extraordinarily admiring.
I'm sympathetic to both sides. I'm sympathetic to Scully's side because he's Scully, but he's also a public figure, and heaven knows he's worthy of a book. The book should be fair, but should it be suppressed?
"I feel strongly that any public figure such as Scully deserves a biography, but I don't wish to be presumptive," said Smith. "The first words I use in the book, to paraphrase, are that this is not `the' book on him, but it's `a' book on him. It's a public look at the public man.
"It's been something I've had in mind for at least the last 10 years. When people read it there'll be no mistake about my great admiration for him and an analysis of what makes him great. Let readers and critics judge it." ...
Scully, who turns 80 later this month, says he feels he's betrayed many writers who've approached him in the past about a book project.
"It's a very helpless feeling on my part," Scully said. "Now all my pals I turned down will think less of me.
"It's a terrible feeling when your life doesn't belong to you. Very, very sad."
I wish those weren't Vin's feelings on the matter, but he wouldn't be Vin if they weren't, would he?
Blah Blah Blah Veterans Good Young Players Evil Blah Blah Blah
(New Dodger coach Larry) Bowa, a former big league manager himself, didn't bring up the Dodgers' late-season collapse this year, when veteran second baseman Jeff Kent alluded to what he saw as a problem with younger players not doing the little things necessary to win.
But in essence, Bowa said nothing of the sort would be tolerated in the future.
He did say he was familiar with several Los Angeles veterans, adding: "Those are winners, they know how to play the game."
Bowa rattled off the names of several of the younger Dodgers.
"It's not going to take us long," Bowa predicted. "Believe me, we'll get inside their heads. It's important they learn how to win, to do the little things. Guys get caught up in stats. The sooner we get rid of the individual things, the sooner we'll get them to thinking of how to win as a team."
I tell you, Ned Colletti better hang onto those kids. If the Dodgers don't keep 'em, what will they use for scapegoats?
Here's a thought. It doesn't have to be this way. Instead of stereotyping all the veterans as baseball saints and all the kids as baseball sinners, the leaders of this team could actually evaluate each team member on their own merits. For example, the way Russell Martin, the kid, is a stand-up guy on the field and off, while Derek Lowe, the grownup, pouts when things don't go his way. And so on.
Why are so many people buying into these stereotypes?
Update: Some comments from this thread ...
1. The number of players who don't care about money is presumably very small.
Also, this interesting comparison between Dodger infielder Tony Abreu and the Angels' Howie Kendrick:
.285/.314/.416 -- 9 BB's, 44 SO's, 267 AB's
.271/.309/.404 -- 7 BB's, 21 SO's, 166 AB's
Abreu had the better walk rate (although it was still pretty bad) and the better contact rate.
So, how did Kendrick get as much hype as he did relative to Abreu, coming up in the minors? I think it has a lot to do with the Angels' chain of affiliates that play in hitter-friendly parks in hitter-friendly leagues. Kendrick's numbers in the minors always got a nice boost from his playing environments, while Abreu, by contrast, was always in pitchers' leagues until he played in Vegas this past year, and he never really got settled in in Triple A because he spent a lot of time in the majors in 2007 and also got hurt.
If I had it in me, I would highlight comments from the threads every day, because there's so much good stuff down here. Alas, I usually leave it to you to find them yourselves ... happy hunting!
A great Dodger photo I hadn't seen before is on the cover of photographer Neil Leifer's new book.
Shouldn't take some of you too long to place the date. Four games, four runs.
Keep clicking through the gallery to see more great pics.
Twice Around the Park with Chan Ho
Filling the Wilson Alvarez/Jose Lima/Scott Erickson/Aaron Sele veteran shot-in-the-dark slot at Dodger Spring Training next season could be an old friend.
"The terms of the contract are similar to a rookie on the start, but the important thing is that I will be able to play for a team that I always missed," Park said.
Park debuted for the Dodgers at the age of 21 in 1994. At his best, in 2000, he had a 133 ERA+ and 217 strikeouts in 226 innings for Los Angeles. But he has been below average since 2002, and made it into only one major league game last season.
Update: According to public relations director Josh Rawitch, Park hasn't signed, but it's heading that direction. It would be for a minor league deal with an invite to camp, but it's not a done deal.
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According to David Pinto of Baseball Musings, the Dodgers still had great defense at shortstop last season, despite Rafael Furcal's bum ankle.
More Comings and Goings
The Dodgers sure do replace people quickly these days, don't they? Fewer than 48 hours after chief operating officer Marty Greenspun resigned, the team has hired Dennis Mannion to replace him.
From the press release:
Mannion, 48, has been Senior Vice President/Business Ventures for the Baltimore Ravens since December, 1999. Before joining the Ravens, he worked as the Senior Vice President of Ascent Sports, owners of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and the Pepsi Center. Mannion spent 16 years (1982-1997) with the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he served the last eight years as Vice President/Marketing. ...
Mannion, who has the rare distinction of having experience in all four Major League sports, will oversee the club's traditional business operations, including corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, retail operations, concessions, broadcasting, and other revenue streams. Mannion will also coordinate the club's integrated marketing efforts. He has been part of two World Series (1983 and 1993 with the Phillies), an All-Star Game, an NHL Conference Championship and a Super Bowl (with the Ravens). ...
Mannion will be relocating with his wife, Pam, and five children to California.
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Another press release: Since it involves free tickets, I'll pass it along.
Dodger fans will receive two tickets for a game in April during the 50th Anniversary season along with a limited edition 2008 Rose Parade pin after four fill-ups at participating 76 stations. ...
Fans can visit 76 Southern California stations now through December 15 to participate in this retail ticket promotion. Tickets earned through the 76 pump topper promotion will be good for 2008 season games during the month of April: April 1, 2, 14 and 23.
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At the Variety blog Season Pass, I have posts this week on Heroes, Friday Night Lights and shows I might give a second chance if the WGA strike causes my favorites to run out of episodes. Would love to see your comments over there.
Looking to Japan
The Dodgers plan to bid for 32-year-old Japanese free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, "a control pitcher with a fastball in the 95-mph range who projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter," according to Tony Jackson of the Daily News:
Kuroda considered coming to America a year ago before ultimately signing a four-year, 1.2 billion yen contract (about $10 million U.S.) to remain with the Carp. But that deal included an escape clause after the first year, which Kuroda chose to exercise.
Because he is officially a free agent, Kuroda is exempt from the posting system that cost the Boston Red Sox $51.1 million up front last winter simply for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, whom they eventually signed for six years and an additional $52 million. Kuroda, whose talent is comparable to just about any free-agent pitcher on this year's market, is expected to command a three-year contract worth between $21 million and $24 million.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti declined to comment on his club's intentions because he wasn't sure how baseball's anti-tampering rules might apply to this situation. But the Dodgers are expected to have plenty of competition, with the Seattle Mariners rumored to be the early favorites to land the pitcher.
Teams can begin negotiating with Kuroda on Nov. 14. Phone messages left for Joe Urbon and Steve Hilliard, the agents from San Diego-based Octagon Baseball who are representing Kuroda, were not returned.
Kuroda is 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons, all with the Carp, and he has a remarkable 74 complete games in 244 career starts. He is said to favor Seattle because pitching to countryman Kenji Johjima, the Mariners' primary catcher, would make for an easier transition. But the Dodgers also have a prominent Japanese player in closer Takashi Saito, who is said to have a close friendship with Kuroda. Saito also is an Octagon client.
One wonders whether the Dodgers will have any interest in another Japanese free agent, 30-year-old outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who OPSed .963 last season before having his season curtailed by surgery to remove bone fragments in his elbow. Fukudome was the 2006 Central League MVP.
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Josh Wilker of Cardboard Gods wraps up his "Yazmobile" series with a whopper of a finish. If you want to see great literature in the making, keep checking out Wilker's site.
Golden God Wins Gold Glove
Congrats to Russell Martin!
You Canít Tell the Readers Without a Scorecard
There was a time when baseball players didn't wear numbers on their uniforms, but it almost seems impossible to envision that kind of chaos today.
So isn't it strange that Dodger Thoughts hasn't given its commenters their digits?
Today, I invite you to request your number for the 2008 season. The only rule that I can think of is that you can't take a number that someone else claims ahead of you. Feel free to explain your choice or not. (I confess to hoping I might see some fun stories behind your number allegiences.)
No numbers are retired it's a clean slate but I'm grabbing 26. No, it's not an homage to Luis Gonzalez. That's just always been my number, whenever I could get it. I guess I'm just too fond of my birthday. Strangely, no one in Dodgerland has really gone to town with it, that I know of.
0 - apsio
In the Joe Torre thread below, commenters have quite properly moved on to something more interesting and important - the state of our educational system and approaches to teaching. If you have any interest, you should check it out. (Of course, you're welcome to talk about the Dodgers too.)
Torre and the Future
Over at SI.com, I have a new column that seeks to remind people that the composition of the Dodger roster remains the big unanswered question about the 2008 team.
Whether your regard for new Dodger manager Joe Torre elevates him to sainthood or renders him a commoner, know that his arrival in Los Angeles doesn't end the tug-o-war fundamental to the Dodger organization in 2007.After obsessing over Torre for a week, most are probably ready to resume obsessing about the rest of the team.
Young and Restless?
Brian Kamenetsky from Blue Notes kindly passed along these quotes from Ned Colletti today.
On the young guys in the lineup:
"We know where Russell Martin is, obviously. (Andre) Ethier is a guy who's played almost two years in the big leagues. So we're pretty sure where they're at. They're starting to get a dynamic with who they are going forward. I think (James) Loney's last month was really impressive. There's a lot of impatience with a guy like Matt Kemp because of his skills, but when you think about how short his baseball playing career has really been, he did hit .340 in the big leagues over two plus months. There's not a lot of people doing that. So I think as time goes on here, they have a chance to be major players on this club ...
"Where they're at, we're fine with. They have to continue to do it. They're not complete. They can't just come in here and think that they're not going to have to continue to work and continue to grow and continue to understand the game better. And forget a little about personal accomplishment and more about figuring out how to win the game ...
It almost seems like the praise for Kemp is backhanded or reluctant, but maybe I'm misinterpreting. I mean, I don't know how you get impatient about a player who OPSes around .900 at age 23. Of course, if Colletti were planning to trade Kemp, the last thing he should be doing is putting him down. So maybe this is just part of the program to keep Kemp humble and hard-working for next year. Honestly, I don't know.
Kamenetsky asked whether there was less need for one-year filler types like Luis Gonzalez in the outfield.
"I think less. I can't predict who's going to be available or who we're going to bring in here, but I think as time has gone on, the younger players have more and more established themselves, and I think there's less need to continue to support them in the same manner. You still need players, you still need good players, but I sense that the younger players are starting to gain on it."
You can hear more audio from Colletti and Joe Torre at the Kamenetsky brothers' blog.
Tidbits from the Joe Torre press conference:
Horrible News: The Wiener Factory Is Closing
I'm actually enough of a commoner to like Pinkberry, but I may have to rethink that with the news that the one and only Wiener Factory, a beloved dive from my childhood (and adulthood, for that matter), is being replaced on Ventura Boulevard by yet another Pinkberry franchise, according to Steve Hymon of the Times. (Link via L.A. Observed)
I guess I didn't see the writing on the wall - and if you've ever been to the Wiener Factory, you'll know what I'm talking about.
"The good news," Hymon writes, "(is) Kevin Lentz, the Wiener Factory's owner, says that he's knee-deep in offers from fans of his restaurant to help relocate."
You Can't Spell Gigantic Press Conference Without T-O-R-R-E
No folks, you can't stop the Joe Torre Press Conference - you can only hope to contain it. A capacity crowd, hanging on every word from Torre as he addresses ... what makes him great? How he'll make the Dodgers great? Why the Dodgers aren't really schizophrenic? Actual plans for the team? I'm not sure, exactly.
You sort of get the sense there should be bunting (the colorful drapery kind) and maybe the Rose Queen and her court, but I guess the main thing will just be a celebration of the turning of yet another page. And who doesn't like a good celebration, a few words from the Bard, Vin Scully, and images of Dodger Stadium in the fall air?
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Sandy Koufax - most strikes thrown in a game (that Baseball-Reference.com knows of).
Luis Gonzalez has told the Times that with the hiring of Joe Torre, he is willing to play for the Dodgers again.
In other news, I have decided to give the film and television industry another crack at producing all my unsold (and pre-strike!) scripts.
The Evolution Will Be Televised
FSN Prime Ticket, KCAL Channel 9 and Dodgers.com will air the Joe Torre press conference live at 10 a.m. Monday, according to Josh Rawitch at Inside the Dodgers. Based on the level of interest, Rawitch said it would be the largest press conference in the team's history.
Yet another record for Alex Rodriguez to break ...
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Jeff Kent and Torre have the same agent, Jeffrey Klein, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but Klein says that family will still decide whether Kent returns next season.
I would be stunned if Kent retired and left millions on the table, but then again, I've failed to predict the most recent Paul DePodesta, J.D. Drew, A-Rod and Grady Little departures, so what do I know?
360 Degrees of Torre
I don't want to leave the impression that my Thursday inquiry into Joe Torre as a game manager means that I have an axe to grind with him personally. Quite the opposite, actually. I do admire him and like him. For that matter, I have fond memories of him as an Angels commentator years back - in all seriousness, he might be wasting his perceptiveness and personality in the Dodger clubhouse instead of in the booth.
In any case, here's some more on Torre. Alex Belth of Bronx Banter was kind enough to provide me with his thoughts about Torre, on and off the field:
Clearly, his greatest asset in New York was being able to handle (George) Steinbrenner - who, until recently, was as fiery as ever - the media, and the enormous egos in the Yankee clubhouse. When you consider how many managers worked for Steinbrenner before Torre, his longevity is truly remarkable (of course, it was Torre's great initial success that allowed him to keep George at bay for so long).
He's a hands-off guy. He doesn't come in early to study statistics on the opponents. He shows up, trusts his instincts, and lets his players play. In fact, I think that is why he was ideally suited for the Yankee job when he took over in '96 - that was a team stocked with veterans who essentially policed themselves. Unlike in the '80s, clubhouse disagreements didn't land on the back page any longer. When Buster Olney was writing his book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," Jorge Posada told him about a beef he had had with Tino Martinez several years earlier. Olney, who was a beat writer when the rift occured, had no idea it ever existed. And Posada told him (I'm paraphrasing), "Exactly, that's because we didn't want you to know about it." It is also commonly believed in New York that Don Zimmer had an enormous impact on the in-game desicions during the early Torre years with the Yankees. They were a perfect match. Zimmer, the quintessential red-ass, and Torre, the stoic diplomat. I'd like to believe - though I don't know this for sure - that they were co-managers, at least during the games, with Torre constantly looking to Zimmer for strategy.
For the most part, I think guys liked to play for Torre. Sure, he had his whipping boys - Kenny Rogers, and Jeff Nelson, both stubborn bastards who didn't always throw strikes, come to mind - but the Papa Joe routine wasn't just a front, or a schtick. The players bought it. Who knows? Maybe if Torre didn't win the first season, the players wouldn't have admired him, and he would have quickly been out of job.
But the biggest deal, again, was how he dealt with George. How he was able to diffuse Steinbrenner's tantrums. He didn't sidestep the Boss. He wasn't intimidated. Torre was deferential to Steinbrenner, always praising him publicly, and privately, from what I've read, he was able to disarm Steinbrenner by gently busting his chops, without further antagonizing him. But then again, Torre is a pro - remember, he was a major presence with the player's union during his playing days. He sat in on a lot of contentious meetings during those volatile days of union v. management in the late 60s and 1970s. (Torre also worked on Wall Street during the off season during this time.) John Gaherin, the owner's legal counsel, once said that Torre was "the original Godfather, talking from behind a cloud of smoke." Gaherin praised Torre as someone who was able to keep his calm in charged situations. That ability served him well with not only the Boss, but the New York media as well.
I don't really know how things in Los Angeles compare. I don't know if fans are as obessessed with MLB in L.A. as they are in New York - though judging by the amount of comments you get, I'd say there are at least some bonafide fanatics. In NYC, we don't have college programs of any note, so it's Yankees 365 days a year. Torre understood this, and he was rarely ruffled. I mean, he did a weekly spot with Mike and the Mad Dog - the most popular sportstalk radio show in town, and the epitome of hype and histrionics - like it wasn't nothing but a thing.
I don't really know how Torre will do without a great club. For the first several years in New York, it seemed as if every move he made turned to gold. Then, the past few years, when he didn't stellar starting or relief pitching anymore, he made more wrong moves. I don't think anyone believes that he is a great tactician, or maybe even a great manager, but he was the right man at the right time for the Yankees. And the run the team went on from '96-'01 is an anomaly, something that likely won't happen again in our lifetime. I think Torre contributed to that success. It wasn't all because of him, but he helped.
Look, I think the term "classy" is as overused as most sports cliches, but it is entirely fitting when applied to Torre. The Yankees love to think of themselves as a class organization, but class is not something you can buy, and Steinbrenner never had much of it. I don't know if that class will translate to the Dodgers, but hey, at least he's Italian! So Lasorda has got to be happy, right?
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You know, everyone talks about how difficult Steinbrenner was to deal with. But at least, until recent years, everyone knew where Steinbrenner stood. He stood out in front of the Yankee franchise and spoke in unmistakable specifics.
The McCourt ownership, on the other hand, speaks in platitudes. Rumors swirl about which big change he has pushed for and whose leash he has shrunk, but we don't really know, do we? He tells us that he leaves the baseball operation to the baseball guys, but is that true?
Certainly, Steinbrenner isn't the only owner who ever saw chaos on his watch. The McCourts have seen some just about every year. It will be interesting to see how much of this Torre neutralizes and for how long. (I suppose it would be poor form to wonder whether he might even contribute to the dysfunction, now that he has been crowned the Dodger savior.)
Anyway, I wish him the best of luck.
Dodgers Officially Hire Torre: What Now?
The Dodgers officially named Joe Torre their manager today. So when do they fire him?
I don't mean that question as a flippant shot at the Dodger leadership, though certainly, with three general managers and three managers since 2004, it wouldn't be out of place. But lost in the gleeful march to Torreville (as exemplified by this Ted Green article on the new local sports site, SportsHubLA), is any thorough examination of whether Torre will actually be a good manager, or at a minimum one fans will be patient with.
The case for Torre has rested largely on him being a proven champion and grade-A personality who will unite the disintegrating Dodger clubhouse back into a winner. Without dismissing these arguments, I think a little skepticism is in order.
In any case, Torre may do better than Grady Little at keeping the Dodgers united when things go bad - but will he be better than the average manager at keeping things from going bad?
Here's what some close Yankee followers have to say about Torre's managerial style:
"He does appear to be aware of his hitters' performances against opposing pitchers and will often consider those numbers when looking to give a starter a rest or get a reserve a spot start. That sounds good except that he is easily swayed by small samples. Just look at his habit of playing Enrique Wilson against Pedro Martinez in 2003 after Enrique went 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles off Pedro on July 7 of that year.
Here's what Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus had to say in his recent close examination of Torre's career:
"Torre preferred a set lineup. He would shuffle the lineup to get a player out of a key role if he was slumping, but otherwise he found something that worked for him and stuck with it. This applied not only to individual seasons, but year-to-year.
"The Yankees often looked for leadoff hitters because Torre had decided that Derek Jeter was a #2 hitter regardless of the team's needs. Torre would sometimes relent, but only after another player had failed or gotten hurt.
"In the playoffs he was more proactive, benching Tino Martinez, Alfonso Soriano, and Jason Giambi, and famously dropping Alex Rodriguez in the batting order last year."
Goldman felt that Torre mainly platooned when forced to.
"When neither Ricky Ledee nor Shane Spencer took control of the Yankees left field job in 1999, he platooned them," Goldman said. "He selectively platooned Bobby Abreu with Shelley Duncan in the second half of 2007, and half-heartedly tried a Mientkiewicz/Josh Phelps platoon in the first half of the season. When Torre lacked a regular at a position he tried to let someone get hot and play themselves into a job rather than try to patch something together."
Goldman also noted that Torre will sometimes choose a good glove over a good bat.
"Torre keep Scott Brosius in the lineup in 1999 and 2000 despite batting performances that were enormously hurtful to the Yankees," he wrote. "Similarly, in the early years he deemphasized Wade Boggs for Charlie Hayes. He seemed to agonize over Jason Giambi's defense at first (though any manager might have done so), and gave crazy amounts of playing time to Miguel Cairo, Enrique Wilson, and Doug Mientkiewicz, who sure as heck weren't in the lineup for their bats. Curiously, Torre's concern with defense did not extend to the outfield, where he seemed to be incapable of seeing the defensive problems of an aging Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui, and others."
Veterans vs. rookies
"If Ned Colletti brings in another 'proven veteran' outfielder, or if Nomar (Garciaparra) has a blazing hot spring training and reclaims the third-base job, you're unlikely to see a change in the lineup before June, if at all, no matter how poorly the vets play.
"The one exception there, particularly regarding Nomar, is injury. Torre is not above allowing a young player to Wally Pipp a vet. If the team and the youngster excel while the vet is on the DL, that vet could come back to a spot on the bench, as (Jason) Giambi and Doug Mientkiewicz did this year. Heck, even Johnny Damon lost his center-field job to injury this year, and he didn't spend a day on the DL. Of course it took until June for that to happen."
Said Goldman: "Two of Torre's most notable rookies, Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano, got their jobs through fluke circumstances where there was no choice other than to play them; in the former case it was a combination of an organizational decision that predated Torre's hiring and Tony Fernandez's spring training injury, while in the latter, throwing problems forced (Chuck) Knoblauch off of second base.
"It's mostly forgotten now, but in the spring of 1996 it was reported that Torre was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of having a rookie at shortstop. As in the previously cited cases of Knoblauch and Bernie Williams, Torre would give long-term Yankees every chance to keep their jobs. In 2006 he fell in love with Terrence Long for about two minutes, talking up his experience.
"In part, his preference for old men was able to assert itself so strongly during the later Yankees years because the farm system didn't give him great alternatives. If there was a problem, he was usually in the position of picking between players like Aaron Guiel and Kevin Thompson, not Aaron Guiel and Chris Young."
Power vs. speed
"Even though the Yankees often had a power-hitting lineup, Torre liked speed," Goldman said. "His Yankees clubs were more interested in the stolen base than any non-Rickey Henderson Yankees teams of the modern era. This extended to leading off Alfonso Soriano for two years though he was the most impatient hitter on the club, putting (Tony) Womack in the lineup, keeping Johnny Damon in the leadoff spot despite a rough year in 2007, experimenting with Kenny Lofton in 2004, and the continual non-benching of a fading Knoblauch."
Offensive game strategy
"He also tends to consider handedness over overall ability when choosing pinch-hitters (or mid-inning relievers)."
I asked Corcoran to elaborate on Torre's bunting habits, because it was hard for me to imagine that squeezing with the Yankee lineup would be an issue.
"He didn't squeeze enough, because he didn't squeeze at all in recent years. The Yankees didn't have one successful squeeze in the last four seasons, at least, and I only remember one unsuccessful attempt in that span, which came in a blowout in Baltimore in late 2006. Meanwhile the Yankees were in many game situations in which a squeeze would give them a tie or a lead late in a game that they went on to lose.
"As for the bunt, 34 of those 41 bunts were by Melky Cabrera, Andy Phillips, Doug Mientkieiwcz, Miguel Cairo, Jose Molina, Wil Neives, and Tyler Clippard. Derek Jeter tends to bunt on his own every now and then, which is frustrating, but he only did so three times last year. Torre uses the bunt wisely. He uses it primarily in close, late-inning situations with his weakest hitters bunting to set up men in scoring position for as the lineup rolls over for his big boppers. He'll bunt early if he's facing a shut-down pitcher (such as late-90s Pedro Martinez), but there's logic to that as well. In essence, he treated his nine-spot hitters like the pitcher in the NL, and most of his bunts came from the last couple spots in the order."
Goldman corroborated much of what Corcoran had to say.
"In his first season with the Yankees, Torre billed himself as a 'National League manager,'" Goldman wrote. "This mostly displayed itself in the frequent use of the hit-and-run, though that year Torre also called more bunts and squeeze plays than he would in any other season. He rapidly cut back on bunting and squeezing, and with his powerhouse teams of the late 1990s, he mostly stayed out of their way. Post-2001 he was a little more active with the one-run strategies, but was never fanatical about it. This was one of Torre's best qualities as a manager: he recognized the kind of team he had and didn't try to play a style of offense unsuited to the roster."
Goldman noted that Torre became more careful with starting pitchers after the 2003 season. In the past two years, a Yankee starting pitcher threw more than 120 pitches in a game only once.
"I wrote an article on Banter ("The Lesson of Stevie Hearsay") about Torre's habit of latching on to a particular set-up man and pitching his arm off. Luis Vizcaino was his man in 2007 before Joba Chamberlain (protected by the organization's Joba Rules) rode to Viz's rescue. Everyday Scotty Proctor was Torre's man in 2006. Beware, Jonathan Broxton.
"Torre's other big bullpen bugaboo is the fact that he's loathe to bring his closer into a tied game on the road, and has lost many such contests by working from the bottom of the pen up, rather than the top down in such situations. I've dubbed this 'Jeff Weaver Syndrome' after his use of Weaver in such a situation in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series (you can find some of my writing on this subject by searching "Jeff Weaver Syndrome" on Banter)."
And so ...
And even though Little had trouble with pitching changes and knowing when to pinch-hit, I'm not assured that Torre has a significantly better grasp. My biggest problem with Little would be when he let a pitcher bat and then let him face only one or two more batters. That might be an area that Torre improves the team, but on the other hand, Torre has his blind spots too.
I think it's also worth noting that in his two seasons in Los Angeles, Little did not get in hot water with the Dodger front office or the media. In fact, Little was widely considered a hit with the players, at least as far as anyone let on. The only criticism in this area that emerged was that when the clubhouse fell apart, Little couldn't repair it - in fact, Little might have even contributed to it. So perhaps, perhaps, Torre could have kept the team afloat heading into that pivotal series in Colorado that killed the Dodgers and launched the Rockies into the postseason.
But there's a whole lot of other stuff running a team stuff that a manager can control and stuff that he can't. It would be imprudent for me to say that Torre is a bad hire, but the notion of him as a panacea strikes me as a reach. The team may still falter with him, or might be great despite him. In the end, the manager is a middleman, and needs support from above and below.
Update: From Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus, in the comments below:
Having watched Torre at close range for 12 years from my New York vantage, I have fewer reservations regarding his taking over the Dodgers than I think most of you do here. Yes, he has his foibles, but he's also shown himself to be more adaptable than commonly given credit for. He handled the in-season integration of Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera into the lineups pretty well, and particularly this past year, showed that he wasn't afraid to bench expensive, gimpy and ineffective veterans like Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. Yet he was also able to quell any major clubhouse dissent over those moves, which is pretty impressive.
A few other things to add:
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
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