Monthly archives: March 2006
Oldies in the Outfield
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I have to say, Tim Salmon could be one of the better stories in baseball this year. At least, I'm rooting for him to be.
We know all about the Dodger outfield, but that Angel outfield isn't exactly the youngest or healthiest in baseball, either. Come to think of it, all four three-or-more-worded California teams are tender in the grass.
Welcome home, team.
The More, the Merrier
SB Nation, home of Tyler Bleszinski's renowned Athletics Nation site, has finally filled its Dodger gap. It's True Blue L.A., and it's run by Michael Nicks. Having read his first post, he looks like my kind of guy. (His level of detail in describing the Dodger fan experience includes mention of "the 20-foot stainless steel trough.") So give Nicks a glance ... looks like our online reading list might have just gotten even more overwhelming.
End of Spring Training Ex-Dodger Update
This list was made through my research and some help from our studio audience. Stories are from The Associated Press or MLB.com unless otherwise indicated:
Update (again, with help from below): Reggie Abercrombie has come all the way back from knee surgery and bad contacts veritable dismissal as a prospect to claim a spot in the Marlins outfield. (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Miami Herald)
Still only 23, Gutierrez OPSed .745 in 95 AA games last year, .723 in 19 AAA games, and went 0 for 1 with a walk for Cleveland.
Questions Linger with Furcal Injury
An MRI on Dodger shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal revealed an "anular strain," according to Tony Jackson of the Daily News. Jackson indicates that the Dodgers don't know when Furcal will play again - it could be as soon as two days, or he could go on the disabled list.
Jackson added that having played in Wednesday's exhibition, Dioner Navarro is on track to be on the active roster, despite this other Jackson article indicating otherwise.
Update: From Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus:
Everything's connected. Rafael Furcal has been rehabbing from "minor" knee surgery and was behind schedule. Whether his gait changed or he rushed back, he's now dealing with a disc problem in his lower back. Called an "annular strain," the injury is minor, unpredictable, and the first sign of degenerative disc disease. Furcal's pain tolerance and response to treatment will determine when he returns, though this is definitely an injury that will need to be watched and managed for the rest of the year, and beyond that, for the rest of his career. Back injuries are perhaps the most unpredictable injuries to baseball players. This is definitely a major concern for the Dodgers.
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General Manager Ned Colletti said Kent is "crystal clear" about perhaps moving to first base eventually. However, the Dodgers have no short-term or long-range plans to move him.
- Steve Henson in the Times
(So what is the more surprising contract decision from Wednesday: the Dodgers extending Kent, or American Idol extending Paula Abdul?)
Henson also noted that minor league pitcher Kurt Ainsworth will need surgery that will sideline him until August or later.
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In the latest from his periodic series of highlights from his father's long sportswriting career, Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts gives us the end of the famous Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale holdout. Forty years ago today, the Dodgers ceased negotiations.
FINAL OFFER REFUSED
The baseball curtains fell on them and the Dodgers Tuesday night. It fell with the impact of an iron curtain with the announcement from Dodger general manager, Buzzie Bavasi:
"There is no sense in negotiating further."
A day later, Koufax and Drysdale returned.
'THE GREAT HOLDUP' ENDS
Today, things are back to normal. Thirty-two and 53 equal $220,000.
That's baseball biz!
I love George Lederer's leads (or ledes, if you must).
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I am scheduled to talk about the National League West today on AOL Sports Bloggers Live at 9:05 a.m. in a show that will also include Tyler Blexzinski from Athletics Nation and former All-Star Will Clark. You can listen live or via podcast, I'm told.
Didn't See That Coming: Dodgers Extend Kent's Contract
Jeff Kent has hit 20 or more home runs in nine consecutive seasons and was the best second baseman in the National League last season. But at age 38, most - if not all - figured that after this season, he would give way to the Dodger youth movement.
Instead, the Dodgers announced in a press release today that they have extended Kent's contract through 2007 with an option for 2008. (The implication was that this was a team option, though it's not immediately clear. Dollar figures were not yet disclosed.)
"I'm very happy with the direction the team is going and I'm looking forward to finishing my career in a Dodger uniform," Kent said in the release.
It's possible that Kent is one of those guys, like Roger Clemens, who is going to be performing at a high level past his 40th birthday. Nonetheless, the move comes as a shock, with the combination of age and recent wrist surgery raising questions about whether this would be the year Kent finally tails off, let alone 2007 or 2008.
Kent has a long way to go before he goes from boon to burden - his EQA last year was .306. (It's funny that 13 months ago everyone worried about his defense because he was replacing Alex Cora, but no one brings that up anymore.) So perhaps my fears for this season are fairly unfounded. Still, it seems like a strange time to extend the commitment. I imagine that this is in part to try to keep the prickly player a little more content for the coming 162 games, along with a true belief on Dodger general manager Ned Colletti's part that Kent is far from done.
On a different note, this definitely raises more questions about the future of Cesar Izturis and Willy Aybar in the organization. With Bill Mueller and Andy LaRoche at third base, Rafael Furcal at shortstop, Kent at second base and James Loney (and possibly Nomar Garciaparra) at first base from now through 2007, there isn't a place for both Izturis and Aybar, if either. Even if Kent were to move to first base in 2007, only one spot opens up.
It's interesting that this move comes on the day that Furcal suffered back spasms (and faces the unfortunate timing of a cross-country flight almost immediately thereafter). It underscores the fragility of the team and how an infield like this probably can't have too much depth. Neither Kent nor Furcal are the type you would call injury-riddled, but it's within the realm of possibility that for at least a couple weeks this summer you could see Izturis and/or Aybar subbing in. So even though a trade of at least one infielder seems in order, it's not automatic.
Ultimately, if Dodger owner Frank McCourt has the money to spend, there's no harm in locking up Kent, who really is a great player. I don't think Aybar is going to be better than Kent in the next two seasons. The extension caught me off guard, but maybe that says more about me than the extension. I don't think it means that the Dodgers will bury their bigger-name prospects, like La Roche, Loney and Joel Guzman. But Colletti definitely seems ready to stick with name players until they drop.
Update: Contract details from Ken Gurnick at MLB.com ...
Kent, who will earn $9.4 million this year -- the last of a two-year contract -- will receive a base salary of $9 million in 2007 with a $2 million signing bonus and plate-appearance incentives that could reach $750,000.
Kent's 2008 salary vests at $9 million if he has 550 plate appearances in 2007, and the Dodgers hold an option at $7 million with a buyout of $500,000. With the plate-appearance escalators and buyout, the deal could max out at $22.35 million for the two seasons or be worth a minimum of $11.5 million for one season.
Update 2: The Dodgers have released Brian Meadows and told Aaron Sele he will not be on the Opening Day roster, according to Dodger public relations director Josh Rawitch. Sele has the option of going to AAA Las Vegas or asking for his release.
Update 3: The Dodgers have changed their mind on left-handed reliever Tim Hamulack, Rawitch said. The team recalled Hamulack from the minors this morning, only two days after they optioned him. The bullpen still isn't set in stone, but now it looks like it might be a seven-man group: Eric Gagne, Danys Baez, Lance Carter, Hong-Chih Kuo, Franquelis Osoria, Yhency Brazoban and Hamulack. One can deduce that the Dodgers decided to go with two short relievers (including a second lefty) instead of a potential long man like Sele.
This also spells trouble for infielder Oscar Robles being in Los Angeles on Monday, but again, let's wait and see. There's still time for the Dodgers to option a reliever and keep Robles if Furcal is looking tender, or if Little remains concerned about having a short bench.
I still hate to go into the season with only one left-handed bat on the bench against right-handed pitchers. Here are the 2005 on-base percentages of the Dodger bench against righties: (Note - small sample sizes in many cases.)
Update 4: Dioner Navarro is in the starting lineup today, for the first time since injuring his hamstring more than a week ago.
Update 5: Ah. Jason Repko may now have to head to Las Vegas to make room for Robles, updates Gurnick.
Here are some quotes from Sele and Meadows:
"I signed to compete for the fifth starter job, then they traded for Jae Seo," said Sele. "All I could do after that was compete. I feel I threw the ball well. Maybe I caught the attention of another team."
"I had one real bad outing and that was pretty much it," said Meadows, a seven-year veteran. "I've done this job for years and seem to have done good in the past. They just didn't see me pitching for this team."
Update 6, count 'em, 6: Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had this item about Dodger outfield prospect Matt Kemp:
People love Matt Kemp's athleticism and potential, as well as his .306/.349/.569 season at Vero Beach last year. But something about him scares the hell out of me. Vero Beach is the Florida State League's hitting paradise, and Kemp's home/road splits look like two completely different players.
(Split) AB HR AVG SLG
Is Vero Beach a hitter's paradise? I wasn't aware. In any case, that is one gigantic split for Kemp.
Lucky No. 7: According to The Associated Press, Kent actually said, "It's not about the money."
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Dodgers Option Guzman, Aybar
Dodger prospect Joel Guzman will start the season in AAA Las Vegas along with Willy Aybar, public relations director Josh Rawitch announced this morning. (Update: Here's Ken Gurnick's MLB.com story, which notes that Guzman is expected to play a little first and third base to make himself a call-up candidate if a need arises there.)
The Dodgers still need to make a decision on the final spots on their roster, with such players as out-of-options outfielder Cody Ross awaiting their fate.
Hong-Chih Kuo has won the Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award as top rookie at Dodgertown.
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In this National League West preview, Jim Street of MLB.com became one of the few mainstream writers I've seen this spring question whether the Dodgers have enough power to win this year.
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Many Questions, Fewer Answers
Last year at this time, the Dodgers were enough of a mystery to me that I cautiously predicted at The Hardball Times they would win between 80 and 100 games - and I was still wrong. This year at THT, I was even less bold, or more boldless, as I discussed the state of the team heading into the 2006 season.
After a 2005 season as joyful as the courtroom of Kramer vs. Kramer, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a family again. The general manager likes the manager. The manager likes the players. The owner likes the owner.See what I mean by going to read the full story.
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The major consequence of the news that Ramon Martinez has made the Dodgers as a backup (as Steve Henson of the Times reports), is that in a typical game against right-handed pitchers, four members of the Dodger bench will be right-handed: Sandy Alomar Jr., Olmedo Saenz, Jason Repko and Martinez.
If the Dodgers follow through with plans to keep a six-man bench, the other two bats would be Ricky Ledee and most likely Oscar Robles.
That is just not a lot of punch.
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Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 points us to this Arizona Republic story about Mike Nixon, the former Dodger farmhand who has turned in his catcher's mask to become a 22-year-old freshman safety at Arizona State.
Nixon advanced quickly enough through the Dodger system, going from Rookie ball to AAA in four years, so even though he only OPSed a .579 in Las Vegas, reinforcing that he would not surpass Dioner Navarro or Russell Martin on the depth chart, it's not like his career had hit a dead end. So it must have been an itch for football that really pushed him out.
According to Jeff Metcalfe's article in the Republic, Nixon threw for a state record 8,091 yards in high school, but the Sun Devils need him more on defense.
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Update: Just thinking out loud about the righty-lefty imbalance on the bench. Is the committment to the right-handed Martinez a sign that Jose Cruz, Jr. could be headed for the bench and Joel Guzman for the starting lineup? We haven't heard much about Guzman as a left field starter lately, so probably not. But perhaps that kind of move remains something that will happen soon after the season starts, rather than late.
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Update 2: Bullpen news early this morning from Ken Gurnick at MLB.com
Two possibilities. With Jae Seo spending some time in the bullpen, the Dodgers might not need a long man right away. That would favor Brazoban. On the other hand, Los Angeles might think Brazoban, who has been tender in March, will need more regular short-outing work in the opening weeks, and consider it better for him to set up things in Las Vegas.
It's really hard to imagine Sele belongs on the roster. Meadows, at least, has been above or near average in ERA in recent seasons. Meadows also gets strikeouts more frequently, though at 5.3 per nine innings the past two years, it's nothing fantastic.
Whatever happens in that No. 11 spot, be prepared for the bullpen to be in flux from the get-go. All kinds of pitchers remain possibilities for callups.
Antonio Perez, Starting Over
Spring Trainingesque optimism surrounds former Dodger infielder Antonio Perez, now with Milton Bradley in Oakland. Joe Roderick of the Contra Costa Times reports.
Evaulations of Perez's fielding in general are all over the map. Just because he's looking better this month doesn't mean he will be better or good. On the other hand, the article makes the point that Perez made five errors in 35 games at third base last season as if that's something awful - but that only works out to about 23 errors over 162 games. Considering his sproadic experience at the position, that's not so bad.
One thing you can know at this point is whether a player is willing to come out and practice, and by this account, Perez is.
Perez reportedly gained a rep in L.A. as a player with a poor attitude.
"I didn't hear that he didn't have a good work ethic," (A's coach Ron) Washington said. "I heard I had to pound him hard defensively, but I haven't had to do that because he's been showing up and getting the same kind of work in everybody else is getting. I've been quite impressed with his work ethic."
Washington said Perez came to spring training with noticeable flaws.
"I helped him to use his feet and use his hands," Washington said. "Once you use the feet, the hands work, and with all of that comes confidence. His feet were too close together and he didn't have his hands in the middle of his body.
Perez may never be a star, but it seems most likely that he'll continue to be a valuable reserve at a minimum.
Reuss Hired as Part-Time Commentator
Former Dodger pitcher Jerry Reuss, whose broadcasting work I enjoyed when he provided commentary on Angel games years back, has been hired to do 37 Dodger games on radio this season, team chief marketing officer Tagg Romney announced.
Reuss will essentially fill the role held last year by Al Downing and work road games outside of the National League West when Vin Scully is staying home and Charlie Steiner and Steve Lyons do television. In those situations, Rick Monday will handle radio play-by-play.
Monday and Reuss were teammates on the Dodgers' 1981 World Series champions. Twenty-five years from now, which ex-Dodgers will be broadcasting the games? (He asks, fearing the answer ...)
Choi Waived, Claimed by Boston
The Dodgers have waived first baseman Hee-Seop Choi and Boston has claimed him, according to Dodger public relations director Josh Rawitch. Updates to follow.
Update: Ken Gurnick's story on MLB.com.
Update 2: Boston general manager Theo Epstein is quoted in the Associated Press story:
"We have liked Choi for a long time and view this as an opportunity to acquire him when his value is down a bit," Boston general manager Theo Epstein said. "We like his power, his patience and his hands at first base. Choi provides depth for us at first base and in a way third base as well, considering Kevin Youkilis' ability to play both positions."
Mike Lowell, who won a Gold Glove at third base last year with Florida, is Boston's starter but is coming off a poor season at the plate.
"We'll see how our roster shakes out, but Choi does have minor league options if we want him to get every day at-bats in Triple-A for a period of time," Epstein said.
Epstein recognizes that despite some criticism of Choi's range, he has defensive value.
Much will be made of how many teams passed on the chance to claim Choi on waivers. That doesn't do much for me but extend the mystery of how a 27-year-old with above-average hitting ability (107 career adjusted OPS, when the league average is 100) could be so devalued.
To so many people, it never mattered to Choi how often he did things right. With Choi, somehow, the numbers didn't mean anything. His home runs didn't count - even though most of his home runs with the Dodgers came in close games. His walks were a sign of weakness. Healthier and less expensive, he flat-out outhit Nomar Garciaparra the past two seasons when park and league factors are accounted for, both in cumulative stats and rate stats, but only a minority was willing to even consider what that might mean.
Perhaps most difficult to comprehend were the chants of "Hee Seop Choi" at the ballpark. They were heard throughout the season. Could they have possibly sustained themselves if they weren't greeted frequently enough with the reward of Choi reaching base? Believe me, the current generation of Dodger fans is not a patient bunch.
Acquired cheaply for the first time in his career, perhaps Choi will no longer struggle with the wind of favorites he replaced harsh against his face.
Dodger Thoughts reader Jibin Park (those of you who patrol the comments know him as "coachjpark") is offering some free tickets in the right-field pavilion to the Wednesday, April 5 Dodgers-Braves game.
Park is offering the tickets as a way of marketing himself as a financial advisor, but the only requirement to get them is to sign in at his website and actually attend the game. Click the link to get more information. It would be nice to support a reader's efforts, it could be a nice chance for many readers to meet, and it's free!
I'm TiVoing the UCLA-Gonzaga game to watch late, but if anyone wants to chat about it, feel free to do so in this thread.
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Seventeen years ago, I saw the Cardinal come back from a 21-4 deficit to beat Sean Elliott, Kenny Lofton and Arizona, 82-74. Tonight, I saw a similar comeback, with an even greater finish: UCLA scoring the game's final 11 points and taking its first lead of the game with just seconds remaining to beat Gonzaga, 73-71.
For the first time all season, I watched a basketball game from start to finish (thanks to TiVo). With work and the kids, I save my big TV sports time for baseball season. But I just had a hunch about this game, and I never let go of it, even when UCLA fell behind 17-5, even when the Bruins trailed 37-20.
As it happens, watching the entire CBS broadcast in my offline cocoon would have been worth it just to see the end of the West Virginia-Texas game, in which the two teams traded game-winning three-point baskets in the final five seconds. But I have to say I found the finish to the UCLA game so exciting, I'm actually shaking - and UCLA's not even my school (though it's my mom's). I never root for with any passion for UCLA anymore until Stanford is out of the picture, and most of the past 10 years, the Cardinal's season has gone longer than the Bruins. But tonight, it was like I was a kid again, living and dying with UCLA the way I did in the 1970s.
The first college basketball game I can remember was John Wooden's last - the 10th title victory - and when my Dad told me he was being replaced by a man named Gene Bartow, I pictured the oddity of the only Gene I knew at the time - Gene Rayburn of Match Game - guiding Marques Johnson in the coming years. But from 1975 until I left for Stanford in 1985, I lived and died with UCLA basketball, hoping I might get to experience a whole season like everyone else in Pauley Pavilion had. I watched them find Indiana an impossible foe to conquer in the 1976 Final Four, and could feel how strange a turn of events it was. I remember the shock as the countdown to a 100-game home winning streak was short-circuited at 98 with something like a 45-point performance against Oregon or Oregon State. I cried when they lost a second round tournament game under Bartow or Gary Cunningham to, I think, Idaho State. I remember big battles with Ray Meyer and Digger Phelps; I remember villainous Danny Ainge with some bitterness. The Bruins once mattered to me that much. So it was kind of a nostalgia trip to spend two hours with them mattering again, even if it wasn't quite as profound.
I mean this objectively, not as a cheerleader, and I certainly don't say it to brag, but rather to explain why I stuck around with this game when I could have fast-forwarded. I never thought UCLA was out of it tonight. I figured at some point the Bruins would realize they weren't Loyola Marymount and would stop shooting three-pointers five seconds into their possessions. As it turned out, it took point guard Jordan Farmar forever to get a clue. But as far as I can tell, this has been UCLA's story most of the season - both in football and basketball, oddly (although they played it to extremes tonight) - lousy first half, great second half. They never got down by 20, so they always had a chance.
I thought the waving off of Darren Collison's basket at 71-66, when he appeared to score while being fouled l might be the dagger - especially after Collison went away from the free throw line empty - if the Bruins couldn't make a stop on the next play. But they withstood it. They withstood it all.
Back when Gonzaga was a Cinderella, the Zags once took out Stanford in the second round, so I can't shed too many tears for them. But tears are being shed - and the first to do so was their All-American Adam Morrison, who was crying with three seconds left and the game still in doubt. I don't fault him for the emotion - I was just so surprised by it. Usually, players are wound so tightly and so full of faith, they don't let that kind of pain out until after the buzzer. And then, when the game was over, Morrison crumpled to the ground - and it was peculiar how long it took for someone to come to his side. I gather from the Times today that he has a love-him-or-hate-him personality, but I figured his teammates and coaches would be with him right away. May have just been one of those things; maybe someone found him the second the cameras cut away. (I read now from the Associated Press recap that UCLA's "(Ryan) Hollins and (Arron) Afflalo went to help up Morrison, who was spread on the floor at midcourt. (Gonzaga coach Mark) Few then came to hug the crying Morrison."
Morrison did give it his all. He may have gotten away with a pushoff or two, but he was a player. At one point, broadcaster Gus Johnson said Morrison had a "quiet" 24 points, and I was stunned at how inaccurate the statement was. After making sure his teammates could get involved in the scoring at the outset, every one of his points seemed meaningful - helping to bury the Bruins early and holding them off late. His four-point play after UCLA cut the 17-point Gonzaga lead to 46-40 was the play of the game until the finish.
But now Morrison is gone, J.J. Redick is gone, and the Bruins are still playing. Every one of the potential three remaining victories for UCLA will be gravy, but gravy is a fun incentive. I'll be rooting for them. (I can only hope that the Bruin fans will return the favor if Stanford's slide from March Madness can be reversed.)
Tomorrow, back to baseball.
Ethier, Saito Sent to Minor League Camp
If you care to chat about the UCLA-Gonzaga game, go to this thread.
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Update (up top, for a change): Outfielder Andre Ethier and reliever Takashi Saito are the latest roster cuts, Dodger public relations director Josh Rawitch announced today. Rawitch also passed along this advisory:
The PR department issued a moratorium this week to Dodger beat writers on using "Status Kuo" when referring to Hong-Chih Kuo in their stories. It was pointed out that earlier this week, Kenny Lofton asked Kuo what the name of the player was that he had been hanging out with, referring to the minor league shortstop, Chin-lung Hu, who had played a couple games in big league camp. Kuo responded, "Hu," and Lofton replied, "The guy you've been hanging out with." Again, Kuo said, "Hu" and they went back and forth several times before outfielder Matt Kemp realized what was happening and cleared up the confusion. To all this, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register had this to say: "Seo what?"
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J.D. Drew loves L.A., and not in the sardonic Randy Newman way, according to Plunkett:
Drew said he never saw the opt-out clause as leverage to get a more lucrative contract after two years. It was a hedge against the uncertainty of moving to a new part of the country and a team he was unfamiliar with, Drew said.
Those doubts have disappeared for him and his wife, Sheigh, who gave birth to the couple's first child last month.
"I'm happy here," Drew said. "We have a home in Pasadena that we really like with new friends that we've made. We had some question marks coming to L.A. - going to a big city on the other side of the country. But we love it."
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Dioner Navarro is likely to start the season on the disabled list, according to Ken Gurnick's MLB.com notebook Wednesday. In that event, Sandy Alomar, Jr. would get the Opening Day start, easing Russell Martin to take the bulk of the starts while Navarro heals and than undertakes a minor league rehab assignment.
Also, the left wrist of out-of-options outfielder Cody Ross was hit by a pitch Wednesday, which will either cause or tempt the Dodgers to stash him on the disabled list while they sort out their bench. No word on whether Jayson Werth had any advice.
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Can anyone who has been to a high school academic decathlon tell me if they are the least bit telegenic?
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Update 2: According to Baseball Prospectus, Bill Mueller is expected (on offense) to be the fourth-worst regular third baseman in the NL ... but the second-best in the NL West.
Bottom 5 2006 NL Starting Third Basemen, by PECOTA Projected VORP
Player, Team, Projected VORP
Vinny Castilla, SDN, 10.7
The Call of the Call
The dream of becoming a major league broadcaster - without the cachet of a big-league career behind you - is the subject of my latest piece at SI.com. For the story, I interviewed Russ Langer, announcer for the Dodgers' AAA team in Las Vegas, and Robert Portnoy, who will be taking the mike this season in the Dodgers' former AAA city, Albuquerque.
And it goes a little something like this ...
A few million kids sit in front of a few million TV sets on a dusty summer's day and dream of becoming big league ballplayers. They're leaping up against the walls of their rooms and robbing imaginary hitters of home runs, 50,000 fans roaring in their heads and Vin Scully rhapsodizing in amazement.Update: Langer just e-mailed me to say that this very morning, the Baltimore Orioles have hired him to do at least 10 fill-in broadcasts for the upcoming season. Congratulations!
NL West and Gagne Talk
Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts invited me and Geoff Young of the San Diego Padre blog Ducksnorts to discuss the coming season in the National League West. In the end, despite my reservations, I couldn't find any team I felt had a better shot of winning the thing than the Dodgers - but the consensus was that it would be another mediocre year for all five teams.
(Previously: NL West preview at SI.com)
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Meanwhile, the Register, Daily News, Times and Press-Enterprise all conduct an unintentional roundtable of their own regarding the one-inning limit (four outs tops) that Grady Little has announced for Dodger closer Eric Gagne. Aside from my usual disappointment in consigning the team's best reliever to pitch only in that specific inning instead of the inning he might be most needed, I have to wonder why the Dodgers would measure Gagne's workload by innings instead of pitches.
Are you telling me that if Gagne comes into the ninth inning of a tie game at Dodger Stadium (when a save opportunity no longer becomes available) and rips through the opposition in five pitches, you would take him out if the game goes to the 10th? I want Little to be as flexible about bullpen usage as he has appeared to be toward considering different people for the roster.
Anyway, Bill Plunkett of the Register offers this.
Little said he could see himself using Gagne for more than an inning "later in the year" after Gagne has had time to regain arm strength.
"That's something you don't want to get in the habit of doing," Little said. "In the end, it'll take the air right out of the balloon."
Little did not have a true closer with the 2003 Boston Red Sox, a circumstance that he jokes led to his firing after the season - "That's what got me where I am today."
Ugueth Urbina had 40 saves for the 2002 Red Sox. That season, Little used Urbina for more than an inning three times in 61 appearances, on consecutive days 16 times and three consecutive days three times.
(Previously: "No Proof That Mota Trade Hurt Gagne", where we learned that despite the common belief, Gagne's workload did not increase after Guillermo Mota was traded in 2004. Remember, Gagne's problems in 2005 apparently grew out of him altering his mechanics to compensate for a fluke knee injury.)
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Little had this funny comment about Joel Guzman in Tony Jackson's Daily News article:
"I'm a little disappointed in (Joel) Guzman. When we put him in to pinch hit in the eighth or ninth inning and he's the tying run, we're not looking for a base hit to right. I thought he was going to hit one up on that (clubhouse) roof (in left). I just had a vision in my head."
- Dodgers manager Grady Little speaking tongue-in-cheek about the 6-foot-6, 252-pound Guzman, who has monstrous power but poked a harmless single into right field with a runner on and the Dodgers down by two in the eighth inning
Guzman Won't Go Away
Apparently pleased with Joel Guzman's outfield play and noting his infield experience, Dodger manager Grady Little is considering Guzman for the spot on the 25-man roster tentatively held by Ramon Martinez, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.
Little originally said if Guzman doesn't play every day in the big leagues, he would play every day in the Minor Leagues. Little backed a bit off that position on Monday, even though it would be highly unusual for a top prospect jumping from Double-A.
"It's sticky. There are very few people who think he can't help our club, but is it the best thing for him?" said Little. "He's done a great job adjusting to the outfield, making all the plays, and I'm confident he can do other things defensively, like shortstop and first and third base. In left field, he looks like Dave Winfield."
I'm sure you're thinking what I'm thinking - that no doubt Guzman is better than Martinez right now, but that it might harm Guzman's long-term development if he plays sporadically and doesn't get enough at-bats. But it is worth asking, does a player develop more from 500 at-bats against AAA pitching or 250 at-bats against the best in the U.S. (albeit not the world)? I'm not sure that an apprenticeship is such a bad idea.
Update: As several commenters discuss below, the kicker is Guzman's underdeveloped plate discipline. Where can he best learn balls and strikes? As I replied:
Let's put it this way - if he's going to be overwhelmed in the bigs, than keep him in AAA. If he's going to be challenged, let him apprentice. It's the difference between being overwhelmed and being challenged that I'm trying to suss out.My biggest concern:
I don't mind seeing Guzman starting the season in Las Vegas. The thing that does worry me is if he starts the season as the Opening Day left fielder in Los Angeles, goes 1-for 20 and the town starts ripping everyone in sight.
So all in all, in the real world, the safe move is to start Guzman in Las Vegas and wait for him to overwhelm the pitching in AAA. There are other options to supplant Ramon Martinez in the short term. And maybe it won't be a long wait.
Update 2: Jason Repko has "made the team," Steve Henson reports Grady Little saying in the Times. That means four out of six spots on the Dodger bench are taken: Olmedo Saenz, Ricky Ledee, Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Repko.
Battling for the final two spots: Guzman, Martinez, Oscar Robles, Hee Seop Choi, Willy Aybar (who got some kind words from Little in Henson's article), Cody Ross and Andre Ethier. Robles might be the favorite to take one slot, while Guzman, Martinez, Aybar and Choi vie for the other. Repko has probably taken the right-handed-hitting Ross' chance, and Ethier makes sense to start in AAA.
Update 3: The Dodgers must decide by March 29 if they want Martinez on their Opening Day roster, or give him a five-day window to find another major league employer, reports Gurnick in his latest piece.
Martinez will earn $700,000 if the Dodgers keep him; the implication is that this contract becomes guaranteed by March 29 if neither party does anything to stop it. Of course, Martinez could explore his options from March 29 through April 2 and still end up a Dodger, but one assumes that the Dodgers would be prepared to move on without him in that scenario.
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How Are We Feeling Today?
No one in the projected Dodger starting lineup is free from health worries, according to Will Carroll in his Team Health Report on the Dodgers at Baseball Prospectus. The starting pitching fares better, with Derek Lowe, Brett Tomko and Jae Seo getting the all-clear - which is not to say they can't get hurt, but that there's nothing immediate to worry about.
Speaking more generally about the team, Carroll writes the following:
There are a couple intertwined theories that will come to bear on the Dodgers this season. The first -and most obvious - concerns the rebound effect. If the injuries last season were actually just bad luck, then some significant natural correction might come this season. The data for injuries doesn't show this, though. Teams that have bad luck might not have as much bad luck the following year, but they don't often travel to the opposite end of the DL days chart. They go where their medical staff takes them; in this case, the Dodgers are better than average.
The second theory is that unrelated traumatic injuries are no fault of the team and tend to balance out. Again, the numbers we have don't seem to show this. Some traumatic injuries are simple accidents while others are the result of things we don't necessarily see, such as preparation, conditioning, and the proper selection of players. The fact that J.D. Drew ended the season on the DL seems to be a negative but even the most injury-prone player can't have an HBP held against him.
The final theory is that player risk is completely individual, especially given the amount of turnover. 2005 has little to do with 2006 in total, though there are certainly overlaps. Adding players like Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller, and Rafael Furcal doesn't necessarily reduce injury risk overall, but making them wear Dodger blue is neither an inherent positive or negative.
In a sense, for all the Dodger owners, general managers, managers and players put on trial by the media and the fans in recent years, the medical and training staff has mostly escaped much more than whistles about how injuries always seem to be more serious than the team wants you to beileve (Cesar Izturis, now looking at a May return from Tommy John surgery, perhaps might prove an exception.) Once again, the trainers might only be able to be as good as the crippled hand they've been dealt. The question is, with vulnerable players parading through the training room, will we ever know how good (or not-so-good) they really are?
It's the first televised Dodger game of the year with Vin Scully: 10 a.m. on Channel 9 in Los Angeles. Enjoy.
* * *
Jae Seo pitched five shutout innings in Korea's World Baseball Classic loss to Japan on Saturday night. Earlier, Odalis Perez took the loss for the Dominican Republic against Cuba despite allowing three infield grounders and nothing else. Two of the grounders managed to become hits, and the third one drove in a run to break a 0-0 tie.
In any event, the two pitchers will soon be back in Dodgertown.
Well, It Is Manny Mota Talking ...
... so we show respect. Manny Mota changed Jason Repko's batting stance in September, according to Tony Jackson of the Daily News, and the dividends seemed tangible, giving credence to the notion that Repko might really be better than he showed most of 2005.
"His stance was so closed (before) that he was dropping his head," Mota said. "That was causing him to get under the pitches too much. I wanted him to try to stay on top more."
The Dodgers will meet Sunday night to see if they can come to some decisions, Henson reported - though there still will be two weeks of Spring Training left.
Leadman 1 , M. Leadman 260 (26-6)
Eleven entries are tied at 25-7. Seeded teams are 23-9. I'm down near the bottom, at 19-13. Just haven't had it going on ...
Baseball America in Dodgertown
Baseball America spends some time at Dodgertown today, with Chris Kline writing up his interview with Dodger vice president of scouting and player development Roy Smith as well as offering a few notes on some of the team's less heralded prospects.
Here's Smith on Edwin Jackson and pitching in Las Vegas:
You have to make your pitches and you have to be aggressive in that league. You're going to give up some home runs and sometimes the scores are going to be sometimes a little higher. But there are places to pitch in that league. You can't use it as an excuse. I don't know if that was the reason that explains Edwin Jackson. He was a converted guy who didn't have a lot of experience. And when you hit a bump in the road and there are high expectations, it's magnified. This kid's still a young kid and the story has yet to be written on him. We didn't trade him with the idea, 'Hey, he's a flop;' we got value for him and I think it was a good baseball trade.
You have to take into account when you're evaluating guys out there that they're in an environment that's tough to pitch in. We don't use that as an excuse in the organization. It's not like the next level's going to be easier because you're not in Vegas. You have to be aggressive and you can't beat yourself. If you develop that mindset, you're benefiting from the tough conditions because it's even more reinforced that you can't walk people. And that's what we're drumming into our guys.
And, Smith on first baseman Cory Dunlap, who played at Vero Beach last season (and whom Kline writes is closer to 260 pounds than his listed weight of 205:
Cory can hit, but he has to get in shape. ... I was with Walter in Pittsburgh, and he's one of the nicest kids in the world--one of my favorites. But you can't play at 300 pounds. You can't. There's a reason why he's bounced around. You just can't do it.
But with Cory, we have hopes with him. We're contracted with API (Athletes Performance Institute) and we've had them talk to him about nutrition and having a consistent approach with his diet. We're going to do our best to get the most out of this kid, because we think he can hit. We're going to try to show him that we care. He just has to get in better shape.
In other news from Baseball America, Jim Callis writes that "I can't come up with a farm system that had as many highly regarded position players as Arizona has right now. If the Diamondbacks can come up with some pitching, they should be battling the Dodgers for National League West supremacy for years to come."
Callis also predicted that Joel Guzman will be in the Dodger lineup before the All-Star break.
* * *
Here's a billboard from the Dodgers' new marketing campaign. The "Think Big, Think Blue" slogan isn't bad - it encourages you to dream without making any promises. My favorite part of the billboard is the atmospheric look of the sky, the change of pace from a lazy summer day. This year, something's brewing.
One could quibble with the inclusion of Grauman's Chinese Theater, but perhaps the most amusing part of the billboard is the inclusion of Jeff Kent, whom by some accounts you couldn't get anywhere near a ballgame he wasn't playing in.
Anyway, I'm rooting for the upcoming TV campaign to have some of this stir-the-pot feeling.
Tossing Darts at the Dodger Bullpen
You might have an easier time today picking the NCAA men's basketball Final Four than the exact composition of the Dodger bullpen. In any event, here's a look at the many relievers who still have a shot at making the Opening Day roster - but be forewarned, I sort of feel like I'm leading the cattle drive through the rain in City Slickers in trying to make a coherent evaluation.
Gagne apparently has a body type inclined to produce significant scar tissue, which has translated into requiring more time to recover between appearances this spring. It is believed the elbow sprain he suffered last spring caused the formation of scar tissue that entrapped a nerve in his elbow, requiring last June's season-ending surgery.
Gagne has been taking three days off between appearances, although that will now be trimmed to two days for the next two appearances. He said he plans to pitch on back-to-back days before Spring Training concludes, but he will not pitch two innings in any game, as he had in previous springs.
"For sure, I won't do two innings," he said. "There's no reason with the bullpen we have. If I have to during the season, I'll do it, but later in the season."
Danys Baez, RHP: In the words of Hank Hill, "Yep."
Lance Carter, RHP: If the Dodgers care to define roles this precisely, Carter is making a move to grab the seventh-inning setup role from Yhency Brazoban.
Most Likely to Succeed (2)
Tim Hamulack, LHP: It's a tossup at this point for the lefthanders, but I'm giving the slight edge to the Ned Colletti acquisition.
And for the Final Spot(s), It Could Be ...
Franquelis Osoria, RHP: Hasn't really ever done anything wrong. Look to him if Brazoban veers toward collapse.
D.J. Houlton, RHP: He could still win a swingman role, though he'll have to show consistency.
Kelly Wunsch, LHP: More experienced than many of his competitors but working without a net.
Jonathan Broxton, RHP: Still only 21 - and in some people's minds still prone to bad innings - Broxton may simmer in Las Vegas while the team defers to the more proven veterans. (You can decide what they're proven to do.)
Takashi Saito, RHP: Dodger manager Grady Little has said nice things about Saito more than once, but he still has longshot written all over him.
Aaron Sele, RHP: Here's the deal with Sele. Right now, there's no movement to have Chad Billingsley appear in the majors this April. So Sele and Houlton are battling to be the first backup for the starting rotation. To that end, the Dodgers would probably prefer they were both starting in the minors. Despite his headlines this spring, it's hard to believe that the Dodgers want Sele for any other reason than injury insurance. So the question is mostly whether Sele decides life is too short to bum around the Pacific Coast League at age 35.
Joe Beimel, LHP: A year ago, he might well have made the team. This year, there may be too many alternatives.
Essentially, though, there are 10 guys still competing for the final three spots in the bullpen.
High Five History
Dodger Thoughts reader Michael Popek owns a bookstore 20 minutes from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, so you can imagine he sees a lot of fun baseball history on a regular basis. Popek was kind enough to pass along this Lyle Spencer article from the 1981 Dodger Yearbook, entitled "'High Five': Trademark of the Dodgers".
The article tells the tale of the orignal high five between Dodger outfielders Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker, pinpointing it as coming after Baker's grand slam in Game 2 of the 1977 National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers and their fans are ecstatic as Baker tours the bases behind his three teammates, but the ultimate expression of the moment doesn't come until Dusty approaches the dugout.
Out jumps outfielder Glenn Burke, the man who has kept his team loose and laughing all season with his cassette player, his dancing, his unique clubhouse manner.
Burke winds up as Baker nears the dugout steps and Dusty does the same. Their right arms extend to the skies, their hands meet in a resounding slap that defines perfectly the impact of this moment.
"That's right," Dusty Baker says, smiling handsomely with the recollection of the magic moment. "That was it. The first 'High Five.' "
Bob Timmermann of The Griddle told me in an e-mail that Baker took the high five very seriously.
"The high five was a big deal in a 1982 brawl between the Dodgers and Padres," Timmermann said. "Dusty Baker felt that the Padres weren't accomplished enough to high five each other on the field and he started a brawl with Padres second baseman Juan Bonilla.
"There were numerous stories about it in 1982. It was in the game story, and Scott Ostler devoted a whole column to high-fiving and the ethics behind it."
By this time - in fact, by the time Spencer's article was written, Burke was out of the big leagues - so it's not clear what inspired him to raise his arm in the air instead of doing the conventional 1970s low five. His absence from the team and Spencer's article (as far as being quoted) is unremarked upon, but knowing that Burke is one of the few baseball players in history to later divulge that he was homosexual, it's hard not to notice that Spencer described Burke as "the man who brought the 'High Five' out of the closet."
Remembering Burke, who died of AIDS in 1995, normally makes me sad, so it's a nice change to think of him keeping his teammates loose and laughing in the clubhouse.
Previously on Dodger Thoughts ...
And at Bronx Banter ...
George: What does she need? Maybe there's something that she needs.
- Seinfeld, "The Deal"
Fairly or unfairly, people complained that former Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta did not prepare for the cataclysm of injuries that befell the team - that his spare tires were mostly flat. But it's worth looking to see if Ned Colletti has done much better with his bench, especially considering that his starting lineup will also feature players of questionable durability.
The assured returnees from the 2005 bench are Ricky Ledee and Olmedo Saenz. Joining them could be as many as three other holdovers, brought to you by the letter "R": Jason Repko, Oscar Robles and Cody Ross.
In addition, Sandy Alomar Jr. replaces Paul Bako - an exchange probably not worth analyzing, although it's worth noting that backup catcher wasn't a problem for the Dodgers last year.
Two other possible newcomers to the bench are:
So Ethier could be a step forward, but Martinez almost certainly will be a step back.
Five other players could make an immediate difference for Colletti's bench.
The best-case scenario bench for the Dodgers, barring a trade, would be something like this: Martin, Ledee, Cruz, Saenz, Choi and Aybar. Some might mix Robles or Ethier in there, and I don't think it would make much of a difference either way. In reality, though, the more likely bench will include Martinez, Repko and Robles/Ethier in place of Aybar and Choi, with Cruz the nominal left-field starter.
The 2006 Dodger bench might turn out to be better than the 2005 bench. But if that happens, it will be an improvement that is mainly the product of Dodger prospects becoming a year closer to readiness, rather than anything proactive Colletti has done. No matter where you fall on the DePodesta debate, it's hard to imagine that Colletti's two main outside acquisitions for the bench, Alomar and Martinez, excite you.
This isn't necessarily a big deal, and it certainly isn't the make-or-break criteria for Colletti's value as GM. It's just a what-if warning in case Murphy's Law remains in force at Dodger Stadium. If the Dodgers have another injury onslaught but survive, credit at this point would be due to the team's minor league executives.
Position Player Update: Make Room for Martinez and Robles
Assuming 14 position player spots on the 25-man roster, here's a non-pitching update of last month's assessment of the Dodger roster:
Most Likely to Succeed (3):
Jason Repko, OF: Similar story, incumbent version. Repko plays all three outfield positions, is a right-handed bat in a lefty-dominated outfield, scans as "Likeable" on the department store register and has had a great March (until the past few days).
Oscar Robles, IF: Until Izturis gets back, Robles will win out for having held his own this month (.825 OPS). He wears his .250 batting average the way Tony Randall proudly donned his ascot on "The Odd Couple."
Still in the Running (3)
Joel Guzman, OF: His spring has been an adulterated success. He's not perfect in the outfield or at the plate - one walk, seven strikeouts in 29 plate appearances - but he has done decently (.845 OPS) and shown a good attitude toward his position change. The Ned Colletti/Grady Little Dodgers don't seem like the kind to put a guy like this in the spotlight right away, so expect they'll let him chase a few fly balls in Las Vegas for a while.
Cody Ross, OF: Out of options, Ross has put up a valiant effort with three March home runs. The Dodgers could decide to let Ethier and Guzman play full-time in the minors, stash or dump Robles and give Ross a second chance following his disappointing 2005 as a 25th man - then quickly dispose of him and his connection to former Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta should Ross not take advantage.
Back up the Dumptruck (1)
To the Minors, With Love (7+)
Willy Aybar, IF: Aybar's quiet spring - broken only today by a two-run, extra-inning home run - while the so-called proven veterans have shone, will send him back to the minors. Worth noting, however: a team-high six walks.
Matt Kemp, OF: Made a great first impression on the new leadership - though perhaps you'll be shocked to learn he's only 4 for 28 in March with no walks - but he could rise quickly.
Andy LaRoche, 3B: Had that big six-RBI inning in the first week; otherwise not much production so far. Of course, he was never expected to do anything but start in Las Vegas.
James Loney, 1B: As hinted at earlier, he may have succeeded in establishing himself not as a backup on the 25-man roster, but more importantly, as the primary starter should Garciaparra go down. On the other hand, Cesar Izturis' rapid recovery from injury could awaken the dormant plans to move Jeff Kent to first base.
Russell Martin, C: Has outperformed Navarro this spring, but the Dodgers aren't getting carried away - yet.
Delwyn Young, OF: The other former infielder has three singles in 25 plate appearances in exhibition play, confirming his ticket to AAA.
Disabled List (2):
Dodger Thoughts in March Madness
If you'd like, fill out an NCAA men's hoop bracket at ESPN.com and join the "Dodger Thoughts" group I've set up there.
Also, for those of you who were offline this weekend, be sure to catch up on the most recent Dodger Thoughts posts:
Best Dodger Quote of 2006
As reported by Jerry Crowe in the Times ... Joel Guzman, on his move to left field:
"I kind of like it. I'm not loving it, like McDonald's."
Showtime May Revive Hee Seop Choi
With due credit and the most sincere apologies to all concerned, as appropriate ...
Showtime May Revive Hee Seop ChoiThe original story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer can be found here.
"You'd better believe Liza Minnelli is keeping an eye on the reports swirling around that Showtime is making a deal to pick up the Dodgers' acclaimed Hee Seop Choi for 162 new episodes," write Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith.
McCourt: DePodesta Era a Failure
Frank McCourt trashed former Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta pretty good in an interview published by Ken Gurnick today on MLB.com.
McCourt said there was a difference between hiring DePodesta one month into his ownership and Colletti after two years.
"Truthfully, as a new owner, I had never been through a search for a general manager before," McCourt said. "Certainly, I thought I hired the right person, and at the time, I verbalized why. The difference is, I had more experience this time and more time to be more deliberate about it.
"The most important point is that I knew what I wanted. We learn from experience, and I feel I learned immensely from the two years I've owned the club. That's what growth is. It's what players go through. You look at failures you have to overcome to become a champion. We all have bumps in the road - it's how we deal with them. You have to be willing to admit it and fix it."
The blindness with which McCourt fails to grant others the same learning curve he grants himself, and the gracelessness with which he withholds praise for the good done by those he has fired, never ceases to astonish me.
No, the 2004 division title was only partly DePodesta's - but so will it be for a 2006 title if it comes under Ned Colletti.
Update: Rob McMillin explores this in greater detail at 6-4-2.
Abused but Faithful
The hangover from last season went away quickly: The Dodgers sold their 2 millionth ticket for 2006 on Thursday. That's the fastest they have reached that milestone in 12 years, according to the team's public relations department. Considering that their regular season can hardly go worse than 2005 did, the Dodgers already seem assured of matching last year's National League-leading attendance figure of 3,603,646.
Aiding the Dodgers' efforts to enhance their presence through good times and bad is Thursday's launch of a Spanish-language website, Losdodgers.com. From the press release:
Losdodgers.com will feature original content from local and national columnists as well as translated stories from the club's English-language website, dodgers.com. The new portal will also feature first-person articles from Spanish-speaking members of the Dodger organization, live web chats, Internet polls, blogs, a regularly updated community section, ticket information, biographies on the club's Spanish-language radio broadcasters and an A-Z guide for Dodger Stadium, among numerous other areas of interest.
The Dodgers were believed to be the first Major League team to have a Spanish website when the club's online home launched in April 1996 in four different languages English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. In 2001, the club's Internet rights were turned over to Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which has created basic Spanish-language websites for several teams in the league. The Dodgers are among the first to expand the site to its current form. ...
According to leading market research firm Scarborough Research, the Dodgers have increased their Latino audience significantly over the past four years it has grown from 32 percent in 2001 to more than 42 percent in 2005.
* * *
Two outfielders are on the day-to-day list now: Andre Ethier and Kenny Lofton. Yes, if you're able-bodied and can catch a fly ball, you'll see some action this season.
Jim Tracy, Plate Discipline Guru
Wow, the rapprochement between Jim Tracy and Paul DePodesta knows no bounds, huh?
For the past five years, no team in the National League has been less patient at the plate than the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But manager Jim Tracy is seizing every opportunity to try to change that, and he's getting immediate results. ...
"I'm not advocating we take the first pitch every time we walk up there," Tracy said. "But, if you're going to take a swing at a first pitch, have it be a really good swing. If we keep preaching that, there won't have to be a whole lot said if you make a weak out on a marginally bad first pitch. It's not the way you play winning baseball." ...
Tracy pushed patience at the plate while with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and has made it a priority in the early part of spring training. During batting practice, he applauds when he sees a hitter taking a pitch out of the zone. During games, he is at the top step to congratulate anyone displaying his preferred approach.
Can a trade of Hee Seop Choi to Pittsburgh be far behind?
I really don't mean this to be snide - I know some will take it that way - but I am starting to expect to read that it was Jim Tracy who invented the vaccine for polio.
Yes, Bonds Is Still a Hall of Famer - In Baseball, Anyway
Barry Bonds hit 613 home runs in his career, including 73 in 2001, before baseball prohibited steroids and began testing at the start of 2003. His performance was as permissable, however much some may want to say it was immoral, as stealing signs.
So for this period of his career, as much as I may deplore what he did, Bonds was not a cheater. J.A. Adande of the Times covered this ground this morning, capturing for the most part what I had been thinking.
Baseball let Bonds do what he pleased - failed to nip it in the Bud, so to speak - and baseball has to live with it. Bonds was a joyrider, but baseball is what let him - and others - run amok.
You can't rewrite all the history you want. You can't erase all the bad because it feels wrong. The best you can do is learn.
Barry Bonds is part of history. Baseball is a game with runs, hits and errors, and he represents all three. Let his deserved presence in the Hall of Fame be a lesson to baseball. It wasn't just Bonds. Baseball took steroids.
* * *
Bob Timmerman, a contributor to the DodgerThoughts website, heard an interesting exchange between ESPN basketball announcers Lou Canellis and Bucky Waters on Saturday. It came during the Atlanta Sun Conference tournament championship game between two Nashville, Tenn., schools. Belmont defeated Lipscomb, 74-69, in overtime.
Near the end, Canellis said, "If Belmont wins, they get to buy some new shoes because they are going to the Big Dance."
Said Waters: "Actually, Belmont is a Southern Baptist school that prohibits dancing."
* * *
The history and future of Jerry West as the iconic NBA logo is detailed in a freelance piece by David Davis at FOXSports.com.
"I found the original photograph in the archives of Sport Magazine (where Schaap later worked as editor in chief)," (designer Alan) Siegel said. "It was an action shot of Jerry West dribbling down the court from one of the Lakers' games. I sketched it, cleaned it up a bit and stylized it. I streamlined the tracing I made (and) slimmed it down a little bit so it would work in all applications." ...
Siegel said that he had no ulterior motive for selecting the photograph of West and that his main consideration was the image's aesthetics. Jerry West, however, was no ordinary player. ...
There is talk that the NBA would consider changing the logo.
Does the present logo represent today's brand of the NBA? If not, should the NBA retire it and bring in a sub?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban thinks that the logo works fine, but he says the league needs to improve its marketing efforts. "(The logo) represents the NBA, but it's how you enable the brand that matters, not the logo itself," he said. "It's a much more competitive environment (today), and we've got to work harder at it. Unless we have a good marketing program, the logo is irrelevant."
Thanks to L.A. Observed for the story link.
* * *
Finally, I have a new column up at SI.com on the World Baseball Classic. While the WBC seems to be generating interest, it only appears to be doing so in places where baseball is already popular, such as the U.S., the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Given that the mission of the WBC is to expand baseball's audience around the world beyond its existing hot spots, I've proposed some changes to the format, so that the game has a better chance of growing new roots.
Gagne's Return: Five Pitches,
Eric Gagne "made his first appearance since last June and needed only five pitches to get through the fifth inning," wrote Roch Kubatko in a live-blog for the Baltimore Sun of today's 9-3 Dodger victory over the Orioles. "He topped out at 91 mph and struck out Nick Markakis," Kubatko added.
As for Dodger starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, the results were mixed.
"He reached 94 mph on a scout's radar gun, and shattered (Val) Majewski's bat on an infield single in the third," Kubatko wrote. "But he also hung a curveball on (Melvin) Mora's single that proceeded a Nick Markakis walk and (Napoleon) Calzado's drive into the right-center field gap. He left with one out in the third."
The Dodgers got home runs from today Sandy Alomar, Jr., Cody Ross, Joel Guzman and Bill Mueller and a triple from Matt Kemp.
"I felt perfect on the mound," said Gagne, who worked the fourth inning. "I threw all fastballs. I hoped to get to throw some more but the hitters were swinging at the first pitch. But if I have to choose five pitches or 15, I'll take five every day."
... Four of his five pitches Wednesday were strikes. Orioles catcher Eli Whiteside gave Gagne's second pitch a long ride before left fielder Matt Kemp tracked it down on the warning track.
... Gagne is expected to pitch Saturday in Viera against the Washington Nationals. He said he is continuing to work on his changeup, curve and slider in bullpen sessions and will work them into game situations as the spring progresses.
In other news from AP, Andre Ethier, injured Tuesday, was scheduled for an MRI, and Edwin Bellorin, Eric Langill, Eric Stults and Jon Weber were sent to minor league camp.
Billingsley's final line: 2 1/3 innings, six hits, three runs, two walks, no strikeouts. Jeff Kent, in his Spring debut after offseason right wrist surgery, had two hits.
Update 2: More quotes from Gagne, courtesy of Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
"I felt great," said Gagne, who was clocked at a high of 92 mph. "I'm pain free. I feel comfortable with my mechanics. I'll add a couple more miles per hour. I was focusing on strikes, keeping the ball down and controlling my emotions. I was excited. It's good to go out there and see how hitters react."
Gagne threw only fastballs and expects to pitch again Saturday.
"I'm mainly trying to get my rhythm back," he said. "I missed a couple spots and that's why they hit the ball pretty hard. I can tell when I miss, because they hit the ball pretty hard. If I throw 91 or 92 [mph] and I bounce back, I'm fine with that. The ball was coming out of my hand crisp."
Gurnick added that young pitcher Jose Diaz will be sidelined for a week with elbow tenderness, but Yhency Brazoban is scheduled to pitch his first inning Thursday.
First Injury of 2006 - Ethier
Dodger outfield prospect Andre Ethier jammed his shoulder in a first-inning dive during the Dodgers' 3-1 exhibition victory over St. Louis today, according to The Associated Press. Dodger manager Grady Little had hope that the injury was not "very serious."
No immediate word yet on how Joel Guzman did in his left field debut, though we at least know from the boxscore he wasn't charged with any errors. I'd mention how some Dodgers did at the plate, but it's already making me uncomfortable that people are putting too much weight into exhibition statistics, particularly now when players are just getting loose.
Update: Guzman done did swell, writes Faran Fagen of MLB.com.
Guzman was tested in the first inning on a shallow fly ball, which he tracked down and caught one-handed with the sun in his eyes. Later in the game, he snared a line drive that sliced toward the left-field line with a backhand grab.
"You can't ask for too much tougher conditions," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "The sun was right in his face, and the wind was blowing. And he handled all the plays he was supposed to."
Bonds in the Eye of the Needle
Sports Illustrated is publishing an excerpt of what it calls "the most detailed and damning condemnation that (Barry) Bonds, formerly a sleek five-tool player, built himself into a hulking, record-setting home run hitter at an advanced baseball age with a cornucopia of elaborate, illegally-administered chemicals." The excerpt is from the upcoming book, Game of Shadows, by San Francisco Chronicle writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
An excerpt from the excerpt:
BALCO tracked Bonds' usage with doping calendars and folders -- detailing drugs, quantities, intervals and Bonds' testosterone levels -- that wound up in the hands of federal agents upon their Sept. 3, 2003 raid of the Burlingame, Calif., business.
Depending on the substance, Bonds used the drugs in virtually every conceivable form: injecting himself with a syringe or being injected by his trainer, Greg Anderson, swallowing pills, placing drops of liquid under his tongue, and, in the case of BALCO's notorious testosterone-based cream, applying it topically. ...
When informed about the book this morning and asked if he was concerned about it, Bonds told a group of reporters gathered around his locker, "Nope. I won't even look at it [the book]. For what? I won't even look at it. There's no need to." He then walked away.
Bonds, of course, isn't the only name linked with steroids. Just the biggest.
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In related news, Major League Baseball "will start selling approved supplements to players in an effort to prevent positive drug tests," according to The Associated Press.
When Will Kent Go Up in Smoke?
Today is Jeff Kent's 38th birthday. Last season, Kent defied age and a tougher home hitting environment to post better offensive statistics with the Dodgers than he had shown in his previous two seasons with Houston.
Generally speaking, because of the breakdown of the Dodger lineup, more was asked from Kent in 2005, and he delivered. His counting stats mostly improved, and even though his slugging percentage fell from 2004, his overall rate statistics improved once adjusted for park factors. (Kent hammered the ball on the road in 2005, OPSing .939, but also held his own at Dodger Stadium with an .839 OPS.)
Kent's rise in walks and on-base percentage might be explained in part by him being pitched around. But if you buy the theory that he had fewer good pitches to hit, it makes his increase in home runs even more impressive.
Few expected Kent to surpass his 2004 statistics in his first season with the Dodgers. Even fewer should expect him to surpass either his 2004 or 2005 numbers in the coming year. Unless Kent can defy the age odds again somewhat in the style of his former dance partner, Barry Bonds - others in Los Angeles will have to make up Kent's delayed but inevitable decline.
Shades of 2003
The Dodgers played 20 innings of baseball in two split-squad games today, scored one run and allowed one run.
Cody Ross homered and doubled for the Dodgers' main offensive production. Greg Miller allowed the Florida run. Aaron Sele continued his assault on reality with 2 2/3 scoreless innings against the Marlins, while Brad Penny faced the minimum over three innings against Washington. Jonathan Broxton also pitched a shutout inning to bring his Spring ERA into the finite (36.00).
Odalis Keeps It Real in Espanol
Most news outlets painted a rosy picture of Odalis Perez after his three-inning, one-hit outing Sunday, but Allison Ann Otto of the Press-Enterprise found unhappiness:
Odalis Perez planted himself at a table in the Dodgers clubhouse Sunday morning, slapped the tabletop and began venting in Spanish to shortstop Cesar Izturis.
He didn't want to pitch, he said.
Would he be rested enough to start Thursday for the Dominican Republic against Italy in the World Baseball Classic? Why were the Dodgers making him do this?
"I was mad," Perez said after throwing three innings of one-hit ball in a 16-2 win over a New York Mets split-squad team. "But at the same time, I have to stay with it. It's tough, but this is the team I belong to." ...
What's important is that despite his mixed feelings, Perez knows how he must protect his arm.
Perez, who is slated to be the Dodgers' No. 3 starter this year, said he would monitor himself today for soreness and that the personal trainer he hired this winter would accompany him to Orlando.
"But if I'm not OK, I'm not going to rush myself," Perez said. "I understand you're going to represent your country. But at the same time, it's only a tournament. And you have to understand there are six months ahead in the season."
There may be nothing to worry about. Brad Penny, who faced 10 batters on Thursday, will be making his second Spring Training appearance today on three days rest.
Boom Boom Boom Boom
Gonna Shoot You Right Down
Jonathan Broxton and D.J. Houlton combined to allow nine straight batters to reach base from the end of Friday's game to the start of today's game; seven scored. That's called "gettin' loose."
In other tidbits:
411. Bob Timmermann
This should be in Morning Briefing in the Times.
Meanwhile, in what might be a staggering surprise to those who followed the Dodger wreckage to the end, Tracy has spoken with DePodesta a few times since. And not only that, the deposed DePodesta sent Tracy a note to the Pirates' spring headquarters here.
"A very wonderful note, I might add," Tracy says. "A very professionally done thing."
That's nice, I say.
"It's better than nice," Tracy replies. "Better than nice. That says a lot. The mere suggestion of it says a lot."
A moment later, Tracy continues: "I think a big misnomer is that Paul and I don't get along with one another. Let me make that clear, that's not the case. By any stretch of the imagination, that's not the case. Not even close.
"We may not see things in the same way. We may not agree on things, but it is completely inaccurate to think that we don't like one another."
Update: J.D. Drew's problem isn't health, but a downed pilot light, according to Bill Plaschke of the Times.
In one of his last acts on that team, (Kenny) Lofton reportedly called out the nonchalance of Sammy Sosa in the Wrigley Field clubhouse, which is sort of like calling out the President in the Oval Office.
Although no Dodger will publicly admit it, if Lofton can light the same fire under J.D. Drew this year, he will be worth every penny.
So the scenario is that the Dodgers' best offensive player hasn't been and/or won't be playing to his full potential, Lofton will say something, and because of what Lofton said, Drew will be more productive. After all these years, after playing with all-business guys like Jeff Kent, after playing almost every day in 2005 until a pitch broke his wrist, Drew would just need the touch of Lofton to push him over the top.
I don't think this tracks.
Worst Dodger Thoughts headline ever ... anyway, here I was thinking that Joel Guzman could still be a backup shortstop, completely forgetting that Nomar Garciaparra could do it. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com passed along the reminder:
Little said he was not planning to have Garciaparra switch back to shortstop if Rafael Furcal is not ready for Opening Day, but didn't completely rule it out.
"If the time comes and he's the best option, we'll adjust our thinking," Little said, although he also praised the play of Oscar Robles, who had six assists at shortstop.
Of course, the subtext of this is the lingering doubt about Furcal's health.
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Once and future Dodgers Chan Ho Park and Jae Seo combined for 6 2/3 shutout innings with six strikeouts in Korea's 2-0 victory over Taiwan in the World Baseball Classic lidlifter. Hee Seop Choi added a double.
Downing Departs Dodger Broadcast Team
Al Downing, who was a Dodger game commentator on radio last season, is not returning in 2006, Dodgers public relations director Josh Rawitch confirmed today. He will remain with the team's Speakers Bureau.
With Charlie Steiner and Steve Lyons handling some World Baseball Championships action this month, Downing's departure gives the Dodgers extra reason to try out some new voices behind the mike. Perhaps the most surprising for you will be Tom Goodwin, who passed through Dodger Stadium in both home and away uniforms but always seemed to do better with the aways. Hiring the fast, light-hitting Goodwin would certainly fit with general manager Ned Colletti's ostensible desire to make the team quicker ...
Also guesting will be former Dodgers Steve Yeager (currently a minor league coach) and Jerry Reuss (whom I enjoyed when he was an Angel color man) and KFWB's A Martinez, while minor league broadcasters Russ Langer (Las Vegas) and Brian Petrotta (Vero Beach) will do some substitute play-by-play.
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The Dodgers' 3-2 exhibition victory today will please the masses, especially with Nomar Garciaparra making two outstanding plays at first base, according to The Associated Press. In addition, Matt Kemp had an outfield assist and Kelly Wunsch began his comeback from 2005-ending injury with a scoreless ninth inning.
Less impressive was the Dodgers managing no earned runs on four hits with no walks. But on Exhibition Opening Day, you could argue that only the good is relevant - the bad can be worked on. Unless the good was just, you know, luck.
Aaron Sele had two scoreless innings - a good news/bad news scenario along the lines of if infielder Ramon Martinez had gone 3 for 3. As much as you might want to believe in miracles, good performances by players whose careers are over on paper (yes, on paper) can only confuse matters.
Ah, what the heck does it all matter? We're playing ball - that's what matters.
Fun with Dominoes
With Jose Cruz, Jr. (along with Ricky Ledee) headed off to the World Baseball Championships, otherwise known as Grady Little's "You Do the Math" zone, the starting left field job has become rookie Joel Guzman's to lose. And while it's true that Guzman may still misplace it at the outset of 2006, it's fun to think about what might happen if he puts it in the vault.
Not only does the Dodger starting lineup become that much more interesting to watch, but the bench becomes stronger with Cruz (or Kenny Lofton, on his days off) joining it.
If the Dodgers were truly Strat-o-Matic players, they would let Guzman also serve as a backup/double-switch shortstop and first baseman, thus providing even more flexibility - although the team seems pretty determined to end Guzman's shortstop playing days immediately.
What's important to keep in mind is that just because Guzman might not be ready to start in April doesn't mean he's a failure - it just means he isn't ready. But it's fun to think of what it would mean if he were.
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Bill Plaschke's Times column today on Derek Lowe's actions of July 2, in a nutshell:
He didn't want to be there.
He didn't want to be there.
He didn't want to be there.
In a startling contrast, however, Plaschke refrains from wielding the judgmental stick the way he did last week with Sasha Cohen, who had the temerity to be nervous at age 21 about winning a gold medal. Plaschke's conclusion, that butterflies meant that Cohen did not want to go for gold, was as much of a stumble off the ice as Cohen made on the ice.
This week, athletes are allowed to be human. I'm not sure what prompted the change - perhaps Lowe's checkout moment wasn't in the championship round, so it was all okay - but I like the change.
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The oxymoronically official exhibition opener is today! Brad Penny, Aaron Sele, Lance Carter, Kelly Wunsch, Tim Hamulack and Danys Baez are scheduled to pitch for the Dodgers in Vero Beach against the Braves at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
And fresh over the Associated Press wires, Eric Gagne will be away from camp for a few days for personal reasons. Grady Little said that Gagne "feels great" and will pitch next week, but Little did not go into specifics about Gagne's departure.
Update: "Family reasons" are cited as the cause for Bob Welch's departure from Class A Ogden as pitching coach - for the entire season.
Update 2: My boss at SI.com, Jacob Luft, has a short bit on Dodger catcher Dioner Navarro which begins thusly:
Dioner Navarro has the baseball cards of two players on top of his locker: Pudge Rodriguez and Jason Phillips. Can you guess which one he put there and which one is the product of a practical joke?
Update 3: Former Times sportswriter and assistant sports editor Randy Harvey will replace Bill Dwyre as Sports Editor. (Thanks to Kevin Roderick at L.A. Observed for passing on the news.) Harvey spent more than two decades at the Times in a previous stint. He will start in April; Dwyre will remain on staff, perhaps as a writer.
I always knew this day would come, except that I had expected the announcement to name Dwyre lieutenant Dave Morgan. But Morgan recently left the Times for Yahoo!.
By the way, I should have said more about the recent passing of Otis Chandler. Just haven't had the time to find a meaningful perspective. L.A. Observed covered it very well.
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