Monthly archives: November 2006
Manny, J.D. and the Three Jo(h)ns
There aren't too many ballplayers who generate the emotional reaction produced by the two that the Boston Red Sox mulled over this week: Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew.As for whether the Dodgers should acquire Ramirez, of course it depends on what they'd give up. It's not really my nature to put together hypothetical trade packages, but several Dodger Thoughts commenters have been looking at the possibilities already.
Matthews vs. the Internet
The questions are getting asked ... and answered, even if the answers aren't quite what everyone will agree upon.
At his introduction to the Southern California media today, the kind of event that would normally pose nothing but platitudes, reporters emboldened by what's been written online about the Gary Matthews, Jr. contract challenged the new Angel. From Mike DiGiovanna of the Times:
... The Angels' new center fielder, who signed an eye-popping, five-year, $50-million contract last week, didn't feel the least bit uncomfortable defending a deal that has been roundly criticized primarily by Internet columnists as the worst contract of the winter so far.
"If you don't know the game, some people might think that," Matthews, speaking Wednesday at an informal media luncheon in Anaheim, said of the skepticism surrounding his deal. "But you have to look at the various ways I can help the team win. That gives you a broader picture."
Matthews, 32, had a career year for the Texas Rangers in 2006, batting .313 with 102 runs, 44 doubles, 19 home runs, 79 runs batted in and a .371 on-base percentage, the Angels needed a defensive upgrade in center and a boost in the leadoff spot, and the price for free agents has skyrocketed this winter.
But critics cite Matthews' career .249 average and .324 on-base percentage in the six years before 2006, the fact he has been claimed on waivers three times, traded three times and released once, and that he will be 36 in the last year of the deal. ...
Told 2006 seemed to come out of nowhere, Matthews replied, "Only if you don't know my work ethic, my desire to get better and to win. You have to look at the numbers the last three years, my runs, doubles, home runs, RBIs ... the average fan may not notice it right off the bat, but it's been a steady progression."
Whatever happens with Matthews, I like that a player's good character doesn't excuse him from answering for his performance and his prospects. The fact is that - nothing personal, Gary - some of the people criticizing your contract do "know the game."
Happy Birthday, Vin and Ross
All the best ...
Update: I exchanged mailed birthday greetings to Ross Porter, who reminded me that Chick Hearn would have been 90 on Monday.
Wolf Signing Is Official
The Dodgers officially announced the signing of Randy Wolf to a one-year contract with a club option for 2008. According to Steve Henson of the Times, Wolf will get $7.5 million in 2007, and his option for the following year will vest if either he pitches 180 innings or the Dodgers pick it up manually.
Given the inflated salaries of this offseason, I like the low-risk chance the Dodgers are taking here. I'm not sure that Wolf will be any more than the fifth-best Dodger starter in 2007, but he'd be a good No. 5 if that turns out to be the case.
Update: The Associated Press writes that Wolf will get $7.5 million in 2007 and either $9 million in 2008 or a $500,000 buyout.
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We had a chat in the comments last night about the rumor that the Dodgers are still interested in Julio Lugo, a notion that I dismissed completely and with prejudice - unless it's a sign that the Dodgers are going to make a blockbuster trade involving either Rafael Furcal or Jeff Kent. In any case, it's nothing I would lose sleep over. Really. I mean it.
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Baseball columnist Tim Brown of the Times is leaving to join Yahoo! Sports, Kevin Roderick reports at L.A. Observed. Yahoo! hasn't been a site that I've gone to for sports coverage, but under Dave Morgan, it has been making a proactive push to be more than just a funnel for game recaps. I'm sure Brown will get plenty of perks with his new job, but one of the most significant should be an absence of the space limitations he has run into with the Times shrinking sports section.
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New post at Screen Jam ...
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Update: At Wednesday's press conference introducing Wolf and Juan Pierre as Dodgers, the team will officially unveil the 2007 Dodger uniform with last names back on the back.
Update 2: Outfielder Jayson Werth, who missed all of 2006 with a hand injury, is feeling "much better" and has begun batting practice, according to a new online Q&A by Henson.
Mark McGwire for the Hall of Fame
In March, I defended Barry Bonds' Hall of Fame candidacy thusly:
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.Basically, though their histories aren't identical, the same line of reasoning applies to Mark McGwire. The idea of demonizing him when others - pitchers and hitters alike - operated under the steroid cloud just doesn't make sense to me.
A broader Hall of Fame discussion is taking place on The Griddle.
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I've long had a history of not allowing myself or encouraging others to use bad umpire calls as something to gripe over in a loss, even for the Dodgers. We go into every baseball game knowing that the umpires are human (oh, are they ever human), and you simply must be able to beat both the opponent and the umpires whenever necessary.
If your victory depends on an umpire's call, it's not a convincing enough victory to be worth fighting over. That's not to say that some bad calls aren't particularly painful, but given that these things tend to even out over time, it's just not worth losing your cool over. Don't be bitter - be better.
With the above in mind, though not just because of that, I find it amazing that people are still complaining about how referee mistakes cost the Oklahoma football team a victory (and in turn a possible major bowl bid) by preventing the Sooners from beating an Oregon team that is 6-5 in all other games this season.
If your season depends on the referees ensuring your victory over a team that tied for fifth place in the Pacific 10 Conference, then your season has bigger problems than the refs. Maybe the best team from the Pac-10 is just better. (And it's not as if I have great sentimental feelings for the top two teams in the Pac-10.)
Sour Milk on Sale at Record Prices
In response to Danys Baez getting a $19 million deal over three years from the Baltimore Orioles, a move that The Associated Press perhaps all too aptly states "further solidifies a bullpen that finished with the second-worst ERA in the major leagues last season," I'd simply like to link back to a column I wrote for SI.com earlier this year:
Imagine pouring yourself a glass of milk without knowing its expiration date.
People think good relief pitching is more valuable than ever, and they're right. That doesn't make relief pitchers any more reliable. And it certainly doesn't make Danys Baez $19 million worth of answers, even in this winter of financial nondiscontent.
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The rumor winds are blowing Randy Wolf hard toward Dodger Stadium, but yet not hard enough to provide official word on a contract yet. The 30-year-old El Camino Real graduate - a freshman pitcher during the end of my Daily News writing days, as I recall - Wolf is a solidly average major leaguer who spent 2006 on the road back from Tommy John surgery. He won't knock you out - his ERA+ hasn't been above 103 since he was 26 - but he's an intriguing pickup, potentially the master of adequacy everyone wanted Jeff Weaver to be, at a surgery-discounted price.
The current Dodger starting rotation is interesting: Two vets in Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, two kids in Hong-Chih Kuo and Chad Billingsley and two demotees in Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko hover around. A free-agent signing would hardly be superfluous, allowing the Dodgers the opportunity to choose their starting five based on merit rather than default.
People may think or fear that Penny, Kuo or Billingsley is likely to be traded, but in this Sour Milk era, I don't know why Hendrickson and Tomko would draw no interest.
Presumably, Wolf's arrival would ensure Greg Maddux's departure, unless the Dodgers are planning a real blockbuster trade.
This might have also been titled "Wasting Time on a Saturday."
The chart below lists the number of times Juan Pierre accounted for X number of bases in a game in 2006, adding together his total bases on singles, doubles, triples, homers, walks, hit-by-pitches, stolen bases, sacrifice flies and sacrifice hits, and subtracting caught stealings and double plays - all on a daily basis (thanks to Baseball-Reference.com).
My favorite holiday. Four-day weekend, laziness encouraged, food plentiful, no social pressure to find a date if you're single, and a few moments here and there to take stock, even if plenty might be bad, of what is good.
Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.
Update: I don't have to buy a new dishwasher. Hooray!
Pierre Officially Joins the Go-Go Dodgers
Juan Pierre signed his Dodger contract today.
Update: (This goes with the "We Were All Goofus" post.) From David Pinto at Baseball Musings:
Just how smart do the Cardinals look right now? In February 2004 they sign Albert Pujols to a seven-year, $100 million dollar contract. Otherwise, he'd be a free agent right now. Can you imagine what kind of money Albert would command in this class? Ten years, $300 million?
And just how foolish were the Fish not to try to sign Miguel Cabrera to a long term deal? When he's a free agent at the end of 2009, how much money will he command? If the Marlins offered him a 10-year, $80 million dollar contract last winter, do you think he would have taken it? Do you then think in this market, the Marlins could trade him at any time for loads of prospects? With this market Miguel would be silly to sign anything longer than three years. And he won't be a Marlins in 2010 at the peak age of 27. He'll eclipse A-Rod's contract.
Dodgers Fire Two Trainers
I almost missed this tidbit in the Times today - it was buried in Newswire. Steve Henson writes that "the Dodgers fired trainer Matt Wilson and assistant trainer Jason Mahnke, the latest moves in an overhaul of the training and medical staffs that began with the hiring of Stan Conte as director of medical services and head athletic trainer."
As before, I have no idea if these are the right moves; I just know there was room for improvement as far as how the Dodgers responded to injuries over the past few years - most notably how players were rushed back onto the field only to reaggravate those injuries.
Pierre Debate Isn't About Scouts vs. Stats
The thing I continue to find curious about this recent debate on the value of Juan Pierre - and it's actually how I led my original post about the Pierre news - is that Dodger general manager Ned Colletti has clearly used stats to justify the signing of Pierre. Yes, Pierre is fast, but so is Asafa Powell. Yes, Pierre can bunt, but so can Brett Butler. Yes, Pierre is a good guy, but so am I.
These examples are not meant to be taken literally, but they do serve to illustrate the point that in order to find context for Pierre's skills, Colletti uses stats. When Colletti says Pierre gets on base an awful lot, it's not as if Colletti formed that image in his mind based on observation like Monet painting at Giverny. He looked at a stat. Stats are the information he uses to help him tell the difference between raw talent and useful ability. And as others have said, Colletti simply seems to value different stats than many of the people who comment here.
Of course, Colletti uses scouts, too. And for that matter, he notes Pierre's personality. He uses it all And guess what - I actually am aware of Pierre's speed and his bunting ability, and fully believe that Pierre is a dedicated and wonderful human being, and realize that those are cool things for Pierre to have going for him rather than being clumsy, slow and selfish.
But I don't think that the Pierre signing is the poster child for the scouts vs. stats argument. The argument is quite simply about what you choose to prioritize from Column A and Column B. And with this signing, however much money he has to spend, Colletti shows that he seems to priortize different things than I would recommend.
I think it's telling that in a number of instances, people all over the country have cited stats to support the Pierre signing, and people all over the country have cited anecdotal observation to criticize it. If we get lost in scouts vs. stats, we're going down the wrong path. We know there's room for both. We know it.
But there is room to improve the discussion nonetheless. And, for example, when the Times runs a chart in Tuesday's paper with Pierre's career statistics and lists batting average in the absence of the widely comprehended on-base percentage (let alone slugging percentage or OPS or VORP or XFSDLKFJLK), there is objectively still work to be done, no matter what your priorities are in a ballplayer. Judging a hitter based on batting average would be like me judging a player's speed by watching how fast his arms move when he runs.
Honestly, if it didn't hold nostalgic value for me, if the ethereal sensation of a .300 hitter didn't have a magical hold on me like madelines for Proust, I would call for an all-out ban on the mention of batting average - I'm talking Big Brother censorship, burning of batting average lists in the town square and tar-and-feathering those who dare mention it.
The more I think about it, the more I think the pure pleasure so many people have in talking about batting average must key the resistance to abandoning it.
But banning batting average is neither necessary nor fun. We can enjoy batting average, as unhealthy as it is, just for the taste - like a double cheeseburger, rather than as part of a nutritious diet.
So here's my offer. I affirm - I reaffirm, actually - that observation and scouting have their place in a personnel decision. In exchange, the people who don't need to be reminded of this acknowledge they all use stats in some fashion to evaluate major league ballplayers, and simply pledge to be open to using more useful ones than they were raised upon.
Let's agree on that, and we can work out what gets more weight later.
We Were All Goofus
When Goofus signed up for his subscription to Highlights magazine, he checked off the box for the smallest term possible.
Gallant subscribed for multiple years. It meant he had to pay more up front, but it was cheaper per issue over the long haul, and it protected him against rate increases for the lengthy duration of his subscription.
Of course, Gallant didn't have to worry about Highlights having Tommy John surgery.
But given the apparent new realities of baseball's salary structure, it's possible that almost every contract with an above-replacement-value player signed before this month and carrying into or past 2007 was a gallant contract. A deal with a veteran from before November 2006 might be the equivalent of getting that player at roughly 40 percent off the current market.
I wonder if front offices should have been able to see this coming, if they should have been able to look at baseball's overall financial trends and the prospects of labor piece, and been more aggressive in locking players. I don't know. But it would have been interesting to see a team go into the 2005-06 offseason like a bat out of Hell, Michigan and grab every talented player they could, and back it up, publicly or privately, with the knowledge that they were buying player stock before the boom.
It's the kind of thing almost no outsider could anticipate, but maybe an insider should have. I could never prove it, and I could be off base, but I feel like some team should have been able to see it and take advantage of it, gallantly.
Something to ponder while we're stuck in the waiting room while Juan Pierre gets his physical and paperwork processed. Perhaps he's slow filling out his W-2 or I-9.
Colletti: We Don't Have a Pierre Deal (Yet)
From The Associated Press:
"We've talked to (Juan Pierre's) agent a few times. We're in a conversation. We don't have a deal," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. ...
Colletti wouldn't characterize whether an agreement with Pierre was close.
"It's either done or it's not done and right now it's not done," Colletti said.
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Asked if he expects to remain at first, (Nomar) Garciaparra said the decision was up to manager Grady Little.
"I'm sure there'll be a time when I play first, maybe a time when I'll play a different position," he said. "Wherever Grady needs me, he can pencil me in. If he needs me to catch, I'll catch - but I don't think he will."
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Update: On David Pinto's centerfield rankings at Baseball Musings, Pierre was slightly above-average, 20th out of 43 players who saw 1,000 or more balls in play. Kenny Lofton was 39th.
In 2005, Pierre was slightly below average - 27th. (Jason Repko was near the bottom, I should add.)
Feed the Poor
Ned Colletti did it.
With one reported contract offer, the Dodger general manager validated the worst fears of anyone who suspected he was too enamored of pointless statistics - yes, statistics - to make sensible decisions.
Worse than trading Dioner Navarro or Joel Guzman, who continue to generate mixed reviews, worse than acquiring Brett Tomko, Mark Hendrickson or Julio Lugo, today's news of a five-year offer to free agent outfielder Juan Pierre for $45 million has crushed all remaining faith.
Everyone knows how much I hate to validate an unsourced report, but there is reason to make an exception in this case. (And I'll take the heat if I was wrong to pile on so soon - believe me, the mea culpa will be hugely rewarding.) In the absence of confirmation from the Dodgers of this offer, consider the following a plea against it. On the chance that this reported contract has not been inked, I would urge the Dodgers to pull the escape cord.
We all understood the desire to give young outfielder Matt Kemp a few months more development time - but this is overkill, to say the least. By the end of 2007, if not this afternoon, Kemp will probably be a better player than Pierre. By the end of 2007, if not this afternoon, Jason Repko might well be a better player than Pierre.
Meanwhile, Pierre could reign as the Dodgers single-largest monetary commitment over time.
I don't want to ignore what Pierre can do. He plays 162 games a year, gets about 200 hits a year, and steals about 50 bases a year. In his best season, he had an on-base percentage of .374, which at the top of the lineup is an asset.
Oh, but the buts ...
In the thick of his prime, the 29-year-old Pierre is a below-average hitter - with a career EQA of .257, a .255 mark playing half his games in Wrigley Field this past season and a listless career-high of .276.
Aside from not tempting official scorers into giving him errors, he is considered by many observers as well as statisticians to be no more than an average center fielder. Dodger Thoughts commenter BigCPA points out that according to The Fielding Bible, from 2003-2005, Pierre had a negative rating defensively with a throwing arm ranked 30th at his position.
As a baserunner, he has a history of piling up stolen bases but at the cost of 20 caught stealings or so per year. Overall, he adds more value on the bases than he subtracts, but not nearly as much as his stolen bases alone might suggest.
And boy, does he need that value. He has never slugged more than .375 in a season. But he must consistently make that up in on-base percentage, right? Nope. His career mark is .350, which is barely adequate for someone who depends on that skill. Basically, in a year that his batting average is clicking, he will get on base at a decent rate. But the same could presumably be said of a career backup like Repko, who OBPed .345 in only his second major league season, injury-plagued at that.
The comments I've made throughout the offseason about the Dodger payroll still stand. Without knowing how high the team payroll will rise, without knowing how big a drop in the bucket a given contract is, there's no way to completely evaluate a signing.
But when you are signing a player who is barely above replacement value, then you can fairly question how much sense it makes. And Pierre, playing every game of 2006, came in 18th among major league centerfielders in Value Over Replacement Player, according to Baseball Prospectus. In VORPr, which measures a players VORP per game played, Pierre came in 25th.
In 2005, playing only 72 games, the maligned J.D. Drew had more than double the 2005 VORP of Pierre playing a full season. That means even if you give the rest of Drew's 2005 games to a player below replacement value, that combo was still likely better than Pierre. With Drew, if nothing else, at least the upside was big. With Pierre, no such luck or skill.
Pierre is above-average in the narrow sense. And his annual salary may be in line with an above-average player in this 2006-2007 offseason. And perhaps this is the kind of security blanket Colletti needs to avoid giving away a valuable prospect and getting too little in return.
But it shouldn't come to this. It shouldn't require this. Pierre is not sufficiently above-average to make much of a positive difference in 2007, and with each passing year, the chances diminish exponentially. The best the Dodgers can hope for is that by 2011, if the Dodgers haven't unloaded Pierre, baseball has become such a lucrative business that a contract with an average annual value of $9 million is fit for a spare part.
I don't want people to think this signing is the end of the world. It doesn't aggressively hurt the team. If Kemp comes out blasting the ball in AAA, he will find a spot in a major-league starting lineup. But it is a depressing, disturbing allotment of resources. Ever since he was hired, I have made a concerted effort to be open-minded about Colletti, but one can only be so forgiving. There simply has to be a better way to spend $45 million than on Juan Pierre.
Garciaparra Signing Defies Easy Analysis
Pretty tough to look at the Nomar Garciaparra resigning in a vacuum. The move is neither inherently good or bad, and its value will depend on how the Dodgers proceed over the rest of the offseason.
It's not as if on November 20, the Dodger roster has more talent than it knows what to do with. There is currently a spot for Oscar Robles. And while you obviously don't need to spend $18 million over two years just to keep Robles off the 25-man, there is obviously room for someone as talented as Garciaparra. The signing also keeps the folks that need an old-school name they can brag about off general manager Ned Colletti's back for the offseason.
Nevertheless, it's a complicated transaction to analyze.
Garciaparra had a tremendous first half in 2006 and a second half that would have been abysmal had it not been for indispensable game-winning home runs in September against San Diego and Arizona. The assumption is that injuries hindered his output, rather than the league exploiting his weaknesses. This is only slightly comforting because a) it might not be true and b) even if it is true, the injuries aren't likely to stop.
It seems too much to wish for that Garciaparra will OPS 1.004 before the All-Star break again, but the presence of James Loney at first base means the Dodgers can rest Garciaparra more when he needs it and perhaps keep him from repeating his .694 post-All Star OPS.
Ah, Loney. Yes, the Dodger roster needs help, but seemingly not at first base, which Loney ably manned after his second-half recall, OPSing 1.099 in about 67 plate appearances. Loney's presence, plus the Dodgers' seeming desire to keep Garciaparra at first base, threatens to make the Garciaparra signing redundant. Garciaparra's value increases exponentially for every extra position he plays, but if he is insurance at only one position, it almost becomes like Jim and Ryan dancing around who takes the desk near Pam in The Office. (Personally, I have doubts that Andy LaRoche will be major-league ready at third base by April, and I still hope that Garciaparra will see some playing time there as Wilson Betemit's partner.)
Loney and Garciaparra both figure to have a slump in him some point in 2007 - virutally all players have them. Loney also figures to get the Willy Aybar treatment of being benched indefinitely, while Garciaparra would get the Jeff Kent treatment - veteran who's allowed to play through. The double standard is irritating. But the bottom line is that Garciaparra can't play 162 games any more than J.D Drew, and Loney will get his at-bats at first. Loney can also play a little outfield - maybe a lot, for all we know, though Ken Gurnick of MLB.com tried to send a chill up our spines by handing Loney chronic knee problems.
Signing Garciaparra doesn't solve the Dodgers' Waiting-for-Kemp problem in center field unless it pushes Andre Ethier into that position. Garciaparra's salary could drain resources that could go into paying (or overpaying) for pitching. And Garciaparra himself could possibly keep Loney on the bench at a moment when Loney is threatening to be a better player than Garciaparra (though we should let Loney develop at his own pace rather than expect him to be Todd Helton on a moment's notice). Olmedo Saenz might be all the right-handed assistance the Dodgers need at first base.
In a Lara Thin Boyle free-agent market, however, with the Dodgers millions and millions away from reaching their payroll limit, whatever it is, it seems almost snobbish to suggest that the Dodgers can't benefit from Garciaparra's presence. Well, "snobbish" might not be the right word, but my point is just that even though first base isn't a need position for the Dodgers, I'm not so confident that they will be able to solve all their true needs this offseason, which might leave depth at some positions as the next alternative.
If the worst-case scenario is that the Dodgers now have two talented first basemen, than the obvious benefit is that Colletti can trade one. The issue of whether Colletti would get an appropriate return for an exciting prospect like Loney or, down the road, a big name like Garciaparra is a separate one, and shouldn't be tied into the evaluation of this signing. Not yet, anyway.
Update: Garciaparra contract details, from The Associated Press ...
... a $2.5 million signing bonus, which is deferred until 2009 and 2010, and salaries of $7.5 million next season and $8.5 million in 2008. He would get an additional $250,000 each year for 500 plate appearances.
Correction: Defensive Upper
Correcting some faulty data in his previous team defensive rankings, David Pinto of Baseball Musings revised his year-end defensive rankings, and the Dodgers benefited, moving up from 25th to 11th. Rather than below average, the Dodgers were above average.
Bill Mueller has announced his retirement and will join the Dodger front office as a special assistant to Ned Colletti, the Dodgers announced this afternoon.
No reference to Mueller's 2007 salary accompanied the announcement.
Pending Financing, Dodgertown Recedes into History
I've been to Dodgertown, felt the spirit there. Let the history awe me.
But I'm not going to come down on the Dodgers as they get ready to move their Spring Training facility to Arizona. As is the case with Brooklyn, many more people express their love for the Dodgers in Vero Beach than actually showed up to the games.
Maybe life is moving too fast for me to be as sentimental about as many things. The move doesn't come without a cost, but I'm willing to embrace the idea of building new Spring Training history, and of allowing those who haven't been able to journey to Florida a taste of the warm Spring Training life, Dodger-style. (Even Vin Scully agrees.)
And maybe I don't have the right to be sentimental anyway, because if I did object to a move like this, I'd have to object to the Dodgers coming to Los Angeles. And I happen to be very glad they came.
In any event, here's the latest news:
The Glendale, Arizona City Council formally approved a partnership today to create a new Spring Training facility with the Dodgers and White Sox, straddling the Glendale and Phoenix city borders.
Funding still has to be negotiated with the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. In the meantime, here are some proposed amenities:
Update: At 6-4-2, Rob McMillin illustrates how this deal is only written in pencil:
It may well end up that the Dodgers have to pay for their Arizona facility on their own, or wait a few years for more money from the state to appear.
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I'm reminded to make sure everyone got to see T.J. Simers' lovely (yes, I said lovely) column on Ross Porter in the Times today.
With his J.D. Drew column earlier this week, Simers is 2 for 2 this week on the Dodgers.
Colletti on the Radio
Dodger Thoughts commenter Inside Baseball passed along this recap of a Ned Colletti radio interview with Fred Roggin and T.J. Simers:
Ned cleared the air about Drew (he's not mad at him) and answered some questions about the Dodgers offseason. He was really, really funny and his answers were surprisingly telling. Asked about Boston shelling out 51.1 million to buy the right to talk to Matsuzaka, he said he'd sell his rights to talk to Scott Boras for just fifty dollars.
Here's what I gleaned from the interview (from his answers and reading between the lines).
1. Nomar will be resigned (or at least they will make a very strong attempt).
2. He thinks Kemp needs at least 1/2 season at AAA.
3. Because of his defense (and what his defense may be at the end of the longterm deal he'll require) Carlos Lee will not be signed.
4. They will be a serious player for Soriano and Colletti guesses Soriano will be signed by some team before December 4th to a huge deal in numbers and length.
5. As opposed to last year, he is much more willing to dole out two long term deals this offseason (bat and front line starter) to help "bridge the gap to the young players."
6. If Dodgers lose out on Soriano and they can acquire a pitcher he will look to trade one young pitcher to get a good power bad in the lineup, not a great one.
7. He does not want to trade more than one young player (blue-chipper) this offseason as he remains committed to their young players.
8. After talking to Boras, he doesn't feel Maddux will be resigned but he hopes that will change (i.e. that there won't be a market for him for two years and the Dodgers will sign him for one).
9. Zito is top choice FA pitcher, followed by Schmidt ("but only for the right deal"). Sounded like he's really high on Zito.
10. Lofton is a wait and see what develops and he still wants to see what they have in Betemit.
11. They were a player for Matsuzaka but Colletti wryly said his dollar amount fell a little short of Boston's.
All in all it was one of the most enlightening radio interviews I've heard. He was very forthcoming and again, really, really funny.
David Pinto of Baseball Musings began releasing his year-end defensive ratings, which are not definitive but are among the best you can find. He started with team defense, and found the Dodgers' to be 25th in baseball.
Roughly translated, the difference between the Dodgers and the No. 1 team, Toronto, amounts to giving away about an extra out every other game.
Blue Jays: 2994 actual outs, 2915 expected outs, +79
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As we speak, it would cost the Dodgers $14.5 million "plus accrued interest and premiums" to buy out the bonds that would allow the team to pull out of its Dodgertown lease, TCPalm.com reports.
"Or, if the stadium is worth more at fair market value than the bonds, the team could buy back the stadium," the report adds. "The county would get the difference between the bonds and the purchase price."
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Takashi Saito vs. National League Cy Young Award runner-up Trevor Hoffman, courtesy of Andrew Grant at True Blue L.A.:
Trevor Hoffman, second in Cy Young voting: 0-2, 2.14 ERA, 63 IP, 50 K (7.14 K/9), 13 BB (1.86 BB/9), 6 HR (.85 HR/9), 46 saves.
Takashi Saito, reciever of one third place vote: 6-2, 2.07 ERA, 78.3 IP, 107 K (12.29 K/9), 23 BB (2.64 BB/9), 3 HR (.34 HR/9), 24 saves.
From Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus:
The thing to tuck away as we head into the Winter of the Massive Cashier's Checks is that our scales are not correctly calibrated for what we're about to see. Every contract is going to be a head-scratcher, because all the new money coming into the industry is, as it has done for decades, going through the owners' pockets and into the players'. The notion of cost-per-marginal-win, or the examples of contracts that have been signed in past seasons, won't help guide our evaluations. It may be impossible to evaluate the deals we'll see beyond the skills, age and projected performance of the player being signed, and how that impacts his team's chance to win. There will be no bargains in this market, at least not in the moment; it will take a year or two before we know again what "overpaid" and "underpaid" means.
The Dodgers' Opt-Out Clause: Leave Dodgertown
A couple of times a year, you can read a report that the Dodgers are preparing to leave their Spring Training home in Dodgertown. It has always been smoke, but eventually, enough smoke on this front figures to build over time that there will be either a) fire or b) a giant black cloud that pulverizes those who do not repent their sins (c.f. Lost).
Today, Ken Alltucker and Carrie Watters of the Arizona Republic report the latest threat to Vero Beach's hold on the Dodgers - a proposed facility in Glendale, Arizona that would host the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. This report has a tad more substance because the Glendale City Council is slated to meet Wednesday to vote on preliminary agreements with both teams.
The Dodgers' lease in Florida has 15 more years to run, but the Dodgers can escape the lease by paying off Indian River County's bonds, according to the Republic. And the Dodgers have long since stopped making promises to stay in Vero Beach, because of a desire to bring the team's spring workout closer to Los Angeles fans and management.
From Alltucker and Watters:
But the project still faces hurdles: The city will probably seek funding from the Arizona Tourism and Sports Authority but will face competition for limited state dollars. The White Sox also have contractual obligations in Tucson.
The sports authority was created, in part, to support the Cactus League with money to update and build facilities. Glendale will likely have to compete with Goodyear for funds. Goodyear and the Cleveland Indians are looking for money from the authority to build a $77.5 million spring training stadium. The sports authority will meet Friday to begin considering the Goodyear/Indians' proposal, which every major West Valley city except Glendale has endorsed.
Sports authority officials had previously said they have about $48 million left to pledge to one more spring training facility, preferably a two-team facility. The authority recently refinanced bonds, which could give it some flexibility, Board Chairman Larry Landry said last week. ...
The Dodgers would not discuss their plans publicly other than to confirm talks with Glendale over a memorandum of understanding to move to a new stadium. The team will "explore all options," said Camille Johnston, the Dodgers' senior vice president of communications.
"We're saddened by this," said Joseph Baird, Florida's Indian River County administrator. "We've had a great relationship with the Dodgers for 58 years. Unfortunately, they have had to make a business decision."
Update: From the comments ...
The lesson, I guess, is that betrayal is a worse sin than never committing to your commitment in the first place.
Update 2: Vin Scully ...
I would think it's time for a move. Vero Beach was greatly associated with the Dodgers, but particularly the Brooklyn Dodgers and it is far, far away from our fan base in Los Angeles and Southern California. It would make sense in many ways, including business, radio, television and others to move closer to Southern California.
At the bottom of this post is a list of the top 80 players in baseball in Value Over Replacement Player from 2005-2006 combined. Thanks to this research provided by Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsguy, I have been able to rank the players by combined Salary/VORP. Largely because of the hit-by-pitch injury he suffered in 2005, J.D. Drew ranks as the 10th-most-expensive player on the list.
Having nothing to do with what Drew is worth going forward, one can certainly choose to argue that he was overpaid in hindsight, in terms of the production that the Dodgers got out of him - although it's interesting to see the names of the players who rank ahead of him. Of course, many of the names below him have not been free agents yet and haven't had the chance to earn what he has.
Drew was a key man in the Dodgers' 2006 playoff run, but for his two years here, he was an expensive one.
* * *
A lot of people never liked J.D. Drew, and now a lot of people really hate him. Many are already planning how much they're going to boo him the next time they see him at Dodger Stadium, in a manner that I believe has probably been reserved only for Barry Bonds or, in my youth, Pete Rose. Considering that Mike Piazza and Shawn Green have gotten booed steadily as visiting players in Los Angeles, for no reason that I can ascertain, Drew should expect to absolutely get hammered. He may even get worse treatment than Gary Sheffield, the least popular ex-Dodger of at least this decade.
Because I feel none of this venom, I'm trying to understand it.
As far as I can tell, Drew is guilty of the following:
1) a history of wanting the most money he can get, aided by agent Scott Boras
I guess that the cumulative effect of the above is something powerful, though piece-by-piece there isn't much there. Item 1 makes Drew the same as 99 percent of ballplayers. Items 2-4 won't win him friends in some quarters, but aren't reasons to hate him. (In fact, I'll tell you this - I'm sick and tired for the heat Drew takes for not playing hurt. For every Nomar Garciaparra or Kirk Gibson home run while playing injured, you get guys like Eric Gagne ruining their years if not their careers. Playing hurt, very often, is a hateful thing to do.)
However, I suspect those first four items lead directly into so many people having decided he is a choker, despite the mass of evidence in Item 5 to the contrary. Then, when you add choker to Items 1-4, that gives you a powderkeg waiting to be ignited by Item 6.
Drew broke his word, and for some people, that's enough. I understand the reaction; I'm just not reacting that way. For one thing, the oft-cited September interview with Bill Plunkett of the Register does not indicate that Drew promised to stay. It says he planned to stay.
"I don't plan on (using) it," he said Tuesday. "I've enjoyed my time living in Los Angeles. That's what it was there for to make sure (wife) Sheigh and I didn't come all the way across the country (from their native Georgia) and get stuck in a situation we didn't like."
Drew said the clause has hardly come up in discussions with his agent, Scott Boras, since the original negotiations. He couldn't imagine any reason for his opinion to change between now and the end of the season, prompting him to use the opt-out option.
"You know what I don't think so," said Drew, who also has a limited no trade clause. "Ultimately it's my decision, and we're happy where we're at. We love our house in Pasadena. My wife is happy. She's made a lot of friends in our neighborhood and with the other players' wives. That's really the thing that was nerve-wracking about it (free agency) for me.
"At some point, you make those commitments and you stick to them."
Now, in that last line Drew all but assured us he was going to stay - though nothing, from "I don't plan on using it" to "I don't think so" to "at some point" is definitive. A month passed between the end of the season and the warning Monday by Drew's agent, Scott Boras, that Drew would exercise the opt-out clause Thursday. I feel that's enough time for Drew to be allowed to change his mind, promise or not.
Please understand - I know what a promise is. The whole point of a promise is for it to withstand changing circumstances, whether they be the sudden flood of money that now appears to be available to free agents, or Drew hearing tell (as Bill Plaschke's Friday column suggested) that the Dodgers were tied of "coddling" Drew, or for all we know, Drew's wife having a postseason change of heart.
I'm just not sure Drew made a promise.
But let's say that he did. If so, then he exposes himself to the moral consequences of breaking it. But just as every promise is of different importance, so is every broken promise. If Drew broke his promise, what were the consequences?
Contrary to the mainstream media spin, the Dodgers did not lose any valuable offseason time with Drew's decision. Negotiations for outside free agents hadn't even begun; trades have barely started. The Dodgers want us to believe Drew hung them out to dry - if that's even the slightest bit true, then they're incompetent.
I'm not saying that I wouldn't have been annoyed or angry at Drew if I were Dodger general manager Ned Colletti. I would have. I get riled by stuff much smaller than this. I curse at people for not using their turn signal when they drive.
Above all, Drew didn't put the Dodgers ahead of his own interest. So maybe that's all one needs to set Drew up as Public Enemy No. 1 at Dodger Stadium.
I think the biggest problem I'm having is that so many people disliked Drew in the first place, and have been going out of their way to trash Drew's career, independent of what happened this week. And Drew did play well. Even with the time he missed due to his injuries, he found himself among the best. He helped lift the Dodgers to a playoff spot.
But even though Drew never got into trouble and never complained, even though he did so many things right, multitudes will consider him a lifelong enemy to the Dodgers. Drew is the new Paul DePodesta, a man whose approach to baseball is so anti-cinematic as to earn widespread loathing. I don't know why I'm sympathetic to characters like these when I love the movies so much, except that maybe I realize baseball isn't quite like the movies.
In the end, I can't expect everyone to like Drew, much less politely applaud when he returns in an opposing uniform. He'll not be a favorite son. All I would ask is that people acknowledge what he did do for the Dodgers. It's not all black and white, and Drew did a lot that was good.
* * *
Top 80 MLB Players in 2005-06 VORP, ranked by Salary/VORP
Crunch on This
Today at lunch, after digesting a turkey sandwich on a stale French roll, I was enjoying a bag of krinkle cut barbecue Kettle Chips that struck me as particularly tasty. And by the end, I was doing what I've been doing with a bag of particularly tasty chips ever since I was a child, which was to use my finger to pad out every single delicious crumb I could get. (At my desk at work, no less.)
From time to time, and today was one of those times, I think about how, well, childish a gesture this is. Somehow, it has to be beneath me, right? And I thought to myself, I wonder if I'll ever be the kind of person who, when he gets down to crumb level, is either mature enough to just throw the crumbs away or jolly enough in wallet and gut to march right back over and treat myself to a fresh new bag of wholly formed chips.
All these high-level musings came before J.D. Drew became a free agent tonight, but they're all surprisingly relevant. Because you can't truly evaluate how much you should be willing to spend on a player or a bag of chips without knowing how much money you have to spend to begin with.
And as you may recall, we have no idea what the Dodgers' budget for salaries is.
Is J.D. Drew too expensive for his value? Is Alfonso Soriano? Is Barry Zito? We can make comparisons to what other players are paid - one player may be more worthy of $X million than another - but ultimately they don't tell the whole story. A multi-millionaire with low cholesterol can buy 10 bags of chips for lunch and bask in all the salty ridges like a puppy in the summer grass.
Prior to 2006, we had an idea of what the Dodger budget limit was. I can't say I know now - I don't know if any of us know.
It's just something to keep in mind as the Dodgers pursue fortifications for their roster. Whatever money they put in baseball's vending machine, we don't completely know if it's smart or dumb without knowing how much is left in their wallet.
* * *
I'm probably going to regret saying this, but if Paul DePodesta had been caught off guard by Drew's departure in the exact, exact same fashion as Ned Colletti was, however innocently, however insignificantly, with that month going by without a phone call, we would be hearing all about how rotten a communicator DePodesta was.
"I told [Colletti] there was a strong demand in the marketplace for guys with J.D.'s skills," said Scott Boras, Drew's agent. "They never made any proposals to us. I let them know we would be open to listening."
But I expect Colletti will be let off the hook - which is fine, just different.
Update: Real quote:
"When Scott broached it (opting out) with me, I said, 'Scott, if that's what J.D. wants to do and what you decide to do, I'm finished with him,'" Colletti said. "We want players who want to be here. He wants out. He can have out.
"When Ned broached (buying out Gagne's option) with me, I said, 'Ned, if that's what the Dodgers want to do and what you decide to do, I'm finished with you,'" Boras said. "We want teams who want to be with us. He wants out. He can have out."
Is the imaginary quote any more or less logical?
Drew wanted a raise. He may have come to that decision to ask for one just over the past month, but is that so wrong? Even if you don't think he deserves the raise, is it so despicable for him to seek one? If you think he won't get the raise, then the Dodgers could theoretically sign him for less money? So what's the problem?
Drew Opts Out
So much for the quiet offseason.
News flash on Inside the Dodgers: J.D. Drew has taken a look at all the money out there in baseball land and decided that he can get more than $33 million for three years, and has opted out of the remainder of his Dodger contract.
Some people will think Drew deluded, though despite all the flack he gets, he was the fifth-most productive right fielder in baseball last year (ranked by Value over Replacement Player), according to Baseball Prospectus. There are plenty of teams out there desperate for offense, and with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement recently sealed between owners and players, there's wide speculation that teams are ripe to spend.
Some may also be offended, though it's just business. Lack of loyalty is a two-way street in baseball.
Though I'm surprised by the move, this was always a possibility. I still don't agree that this makes the Dodgers' contract with him a liability - the team made the deal it needed to make, got a top-flight outfielder for a two-year, $22 million deal, and ends up with $11 million more per year (through 2009) to spend. But spend it the Dodgers must. The top outfielder on the current roster is Andre Ethier.
The happiest man about Drew's decision might be Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Sure, it's one more hitter to compete with on the market, but it's also one more level of need (desperation?) that the Dodgers now possess.
Drew is free to return to the Dodgers, but it doesn't seem likely that they'll feel like having Drew extract more dollars.
Garciaparra Flexible if Not Limber
If I had a chance to interview Garciaparra today, I'd ask him whether he is willing to play any position besides first base anymore, and whether any amount of money could convince him to be a super-utilitarian something at which he might really thrive.- Dodger Thoughts, October 25
Well, I still haven't talked to Nomar Garciaparra directly, but I can give you some third-hand news (from Bill Shaikin of the Times.
(Dodger general manger Ned) Colletti said Arn Tellem, the agent for Garciaparra, told the Dodgers his client would be "open-minded" about "playing first base, third base, maybe the outfield." If Garciaparra returns, Colletti said he envisions him playing one or two positions but not moving around the field on a regular basis.
While Garciaparra's second-half struggles (interrupted occasionally by some of the most dramatic hits of the season) force one to question the wisdom of committing to him long-term at any single position, his willingness to play two positions entices. The irony is that not being forced to play Garciaparra every day almost makes me feel better about being generous to him, since there would be less chance of him wearing down. His presence would facilitate the Dodgers starting the season with James Loney at first base and Wilson Betemit at third, because Garciaparra would be around should either falter.
Of course, Shaikin's article doesn't mention anything about Garciaparra's contract demands and whether they would be the best use of the Dodgers' resources, however limited they are. All I can say is that the more flexible Garciaparra promises to be, the more valuable he becomes.
* * *
Presumably because Garciaparra can't be counted to play five positions for under a million dollars, the Dodgers guaranteed infield reserve Ramon Martinez $850,000 - $800,000 for 2007 and a potential $50,000 buyout on a million-dollar club option for 2008. In this era, six-figure guarantees are of little moment; Martinez will make approximately $500,000 over the major-league minimum.
Still, there's something peculiar about locking up Martinez before any other team can get to him, because 1) he's Ramon Martinez and 2) Colletti showed he lacked confidence in Martinez by acquiring Julio Lugo last summer.
At the time Lugo arrived - the day Cesar Izturis was sent to Chicago for Greg Maddux - Garciaparra and Jeff Kent were nursing injuries, and the Dodgers needed an infielder until one of them returned. Saying that Martinez couldn't hold down the position for just a week or three is like putting a flyer at the local market that says Missing: Major League Ability. It says that Martinez is really just meant to be no more than the 25th man on a roster - which actually is true, but flies in the face of Colletti's faith in Martinez last offseason and this one.
Lugo won the 2006 Daryle (A)Ward for stinking with the Dodgers, but if you put aside arguments about whether Colletti gave up too much to get Lugo, Colletti wasn't crazy to think he could do better than Martinez. But now, 3 1/2 months later, 4 1/2 months before the 2007 season opener, with Betemit, Rafael Furcal, Kent, Loney, Olmedo Saenz, Andy LaRoche, Delwyn Young and maybe even Garciaparra or Aramis Ramirez to play the infield next year, Colletti is placing Martinez in a lockbox.
Looking at that list of players, I conclude that Martinez is around primarily to be a backup shortstop - it's the one position none of the above really qualifies for. Betemit doesn't look to have the glove for it, and Garciaparra hasn't mentioned it as a position he's ready to return to. And yet, if Furcal went down with an injury, evidence from the past is that Colletti wouldn't want Martinez playing every day at short for very long.
I don't know. I'm sure I'm overthinking it. And I'm going to stop here, because the signing doesn't deserve this much attention. While I can't say I understand why Colletti wants to commit nearly a million bucks to a player he may well be afraid to play, I'll just shrug and let it go.
* * *
The Dodgers made several front-office promotions Tuesday, the most important involving the scouting department. Tony Jackson of the Daily News has a quote from the big-name promotee explaining how his role will and will not change.
Dodgers scouting director Logan White, the man whose staff has been primarily responsible for stacking the club's minor-league system with so many prized prospects over the past five years, was promoted to assistant general manager in charge of scouting. Tim Hallgren, who had served as White's national crosschecker, is the new scouting director, but White still will have input into the annual two-day amateur draft.
"I'll still oversee it, but I'm still going to give Timmy the opportunity to run the scouting department," White said. "He needs to have that opportunity like I did. The reason I think I have done a decent job is because I had good scouts and good people who made it possible for me to do well. I will still see 40-50 players throughout the year, the top-end guys. Timmy and I work well together, and our philosophies won't change any."
White also will oversee the club's international scouting operations.
Meanwhile, professional scout Vance Lovelace was promoted to special assistant to the GM less than a year after he was ready to accept an offer to join Tampa Bay's scouting staff. That ended when Colletti, who was attending a college hockey game in Oxford, Ohio, and talking to Lovelace by cell phone, talked him into staying with the Dodgers.
Toney Howell, formerly a pro scout for Milwaukee, also was hired as a special assistant to Colletti. And Chris Haydock was promoted to assistant player development director.
As an Actress, She's a Diamond in the Rough
Ron Washington's Extraordinary Dodger Career
The new Texas Rangers manager hit .368 for the Dodgers, you know.
Here's his most memorable game.
And here's his odyssey. Despite that .368, Washington was a late and moderate bloomer - plus, something happened in '78 that waylaid him.
Not being able to post as often as I'd like at Dodger Thoughts has been depressing. Outside of my family, this is really the place where I feel the most special - despite how modest an accomplishment the site really is in the larger world. The combination of the quiet postseason and the quickened pace of my six-week-old job at Variety have limited my ability to do more thought-provoking writing here.
Dodger Thoughts has grown more shallow, and it makes me feel more shallow. I shouldn't get too down, really. I've been working hard at the new job, pushing to make myself as expert as the position requires, an effort that among other things includes seeing more movies in the past month than I had seen in the past couple of years. That passion of mine lay dormant, and it's been fun to revive it. Further, writing at Screen Jam has been like finding a whole new bike path to ride, quieter but with wide open spaces. Not that I have enough time to post as often as I'd like there either, nor does it have an audience 1/20th of the size of the Dodger Thoughts audience, but I have just had a lot more to say.
In past years, these quiet periods for the Dodgers would be when I would get to do some fun historical pieces on the Dodgers, or reviews of the farm system, or knee-deep research into potential new acquisitions. Little of that is a realistic option right now, and it deflates me. It's shameful: I can't give my mistress enough attention.
It's a fine line between "don't" and "can't" - there are ways to make more time for Dodger Thoughts if I wanted to, like not doing Screen Jam for one. At this time, it's not even on the table to let go of Screen Jam - to punish the other other woman for my failings with the original other woman. But I do realize that with every new dalliance, I undermine the previous one. I've started stretching myself past the point of effectiveness. And I hate being mediocre, especially at the one thing I could tell myself that I was doing well.
I'm writing now between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. My work day tomorrow is going to be wall-to-wall - with a story due Tuesday on top of my editing duties, it means dinner and time with the kids at home figure to just to be an intermission. Tuesday might turn out the same way. So I don't know when my next post will be, though I suspect it will either be short or a couple days away.
In the end, if something is important enough for me to write, I'll find the time to write it. This little self-pity party, for example, was important enough for me to shave some sleep for. Nothing else tonight for Dodger Thoughts would have motivated me in the same way, and that's the flaw of the site. My ability to deliver useful content depends on my whims.
Don't get me wrong - I know there are readers who don't mind reading this kind of thing from me. But as time passed with Dodger Thoughts, I began to develop some ambition for the site, and a little recognition came my way. Running smack into my limitations again like a fleet of bumper cars ramming me has been humbling.
I'm going to keep this thing going. It just won't be as good as I want it to be, not right now, anyway.
* * *
At True Blue L.A., one of the sites you should be reading during my slump, Andrew Grant did a nice post comparing the 2005 and 2006 Dodger defenses:
Amongst all the complaints levied against the 2005 Dodgers, one that stood was that Paul DePodesta didn't value defense. After all, he broke up the "best double play combination in baseball" to sign Jeff Kent. He then followed this up by putting Jose Valentin at third and using the non baseball savvy Hee Seop Choi at first.
Meanwhile, Ned Colletti supposedly understood the value of defense and put his players into place. Admittedly, I felt that while the 2006 Dodgers weren't that much better than the non-injured 2005 team, the Dodgers defense was greatly improved.
I was looking up some defensive numbers for other purposes, and this caught my eye:
2006 Dodgers defensive efficency: .691
While individual defensive stats aren't perfect, defensive efficiency is simply the percentage of balls in play turned into outs. This is the definition of what a defense is supposed to do, so the logical conclusion is that that the 2005 Dodgers, who were so maligned for their defense, were a better fielding team than the 2006 Dodgers. ...
The moral of this story is a couple of things. The first is that we tend to focus on what we have gained rather than what we lost. Sure, Furcal, Garciaparra and Mueller were all nice defensive upgrades, but we probably gave those advances back by losing Bradley and Werth. The second is how hard it is to put a full seasons worth of data into context. We remember the acrobatic catches and judge a player's defensive worth based on the relatively few highlight reel catches they will make over a given year. However, the mundane plays that are made time and time again are far more important in the long run, and they form basis of a player's defensive value. This is why, even with the flaws inherent in defensive metrics, I trust them more than what people who "watch a lot of baseball" have to say about defense. It's just too hard to absorb a season's worth of plays, but it's a job that the dreaded computer is perfect at.
Pang and Suffering
Independent of whether it was right for the Dodgers to buy out Eric Gagne's $12 million option for 2007 (because it certainly was) or whether Gagne will ever be Gagne again (because odds are against it), I can't help feel a pang that one of the most thrilling pitchers in Dodger history is now anyone's potential player.
It's not as if seeing Gagne hurt wasn't a bigger pang, or that I haven't had plenty of time to prepare for this pang, but this is a pang nonetheless.
For those who aren't yet familiar with potential Dodger pitching target Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated has a primer.
Of one thing there is no doubt: Matsuzaka has major league talent. One National League scout called the Seibu Lions righthander, who's expected to be made available soon to all 30 major league teams through Japan's posting system, "one of the 10 best pitchers in the world." Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine, the former Rangers and Mets skipper, says, "I saw the guys pitching in the [major league] playoffs, and there's no comparison." But one big question remains: Who will pony up the more than $100 million it might cost to get Matsuzaka?
The posting system -- a sealed-bid auction among the major league teams for the exclusive rights to negotiate with a player -- is expected to fetch as much as $30 million for financially troubled Seibu (whose owner was convicted in 2005 of insider trading and given a 30-month suspended sentence). On top of that it will take perhaps another $75 million over the next five years to sign Matsuzaka.
The Yankees are so enamored of Matsuzaka that assistant general manager Jean Afterman practically lives on Continental Airlines' Newark-to-Tokyo route, and the organization hired Shoichi Kida, who attended the same high school as Matsuzaka and briefly played with him on the Lions, as a scout (although one source says the two are "not especially close"). The Mariners, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Rangers and perhaps a handful of other teams may yet make a play for the 6-foot, 187-pound Matsuzaka, who was MVP of the World Baseball Classic (3-0 with a 1.38 ERA) last spring and then went 17-5 with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts for Seibu.
In his eight pro seasons Matsuzaka has won four Pacific League strikeout titles, two ERA titles and one Sawamura award (the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young). Less easy to quantify is the number of pitches in the Japanese ace's arsenal. One National League scout lists seven: 96-mph fastball, cutter, Japanese "shuuto" (like a two-seam fastball), curveball, changeup, splitter and slider; another NL scout says Matsuzaka throws three different sliders, bringing his total to nine pitches. ...
And then there's the whole gyroball thing, though I'm not sure why this is so controversial.
In the same issue of the magazine, Albert Chen suggest that baseball's overall health, buoyed by high ticket revenue and labor peace and belied by the recent postseason television ratings, could fuel bidding wars for free agents.
"Get set for some crazy contracts," one National League general manager anonymously told Chen. "It's going to be a seller's market because everyone's got money to spend."
J.D. Drew, who ranked seventh among N.L. first basemen and outfielders in the newly released Elias Sports Bureau player ratings, is expected not to opt out of his Dodger contract, but the remaining $33 million he is owed through 2009 may start to look more like a bargain. Which reminds me ... from the Dodger Thoughts comments the other day:
J.D. Drew's on-base percentage and slugging in 2006:
Update: The Dodgers are now shying away from bidding on Matsuzaka, according to Steve Henson of the Times.
Whether as a stopgap while the Dodgers wait for Matt Kemp to develop, or as insurance against a slump by Andre Ethier or an injury to J.D. Drew, the Dodgers are shopping for an outfielder.
Below are the 50 top outfielders in baseball, based on 2006 EQA by Baseball Prospectus. No, this doesn't factor in defense, but if defense were all the Dodgers were worried about, the team would just resurrect Wilkin Ruan or something. Okay, I exaggerate, but I do think we can make the assumption that unless the team acquires a power-hitting third baseman like Aramis Ramirez, the team wants above-average offense in its outfield. (If the Dodgers do get Ramirez, then the team might be content to pursue cheaper and/or in-house options in the outfield.)
I've included all three outfield positions in this group, though if the Dodgers were to acquire a slow-footed or clumsy left fielder, it could force Ethier or Drew into center which is a risk. Ethier doesn't have great range, and Drew, though he has expressed a desire to play center in the past, maybe shouldn't be forced to cover too much ground either.
Big Names, Big Contracts
Any acquisition from this group, even assuming the other team would consider it, would involve multiple young Dodgers. There is talk that Philadelphia would be more eager than the rest to unload Burrell's salary, in the manner that Bobby Abreu was to the Yankees earlier in 2006. (Drew, who is expected to decline the opt-out provision of his contract, is included in the list for comparison.)
Recently Arrived in a Big Way
Younger group, same idea. These gents wouldn't go cheap, because their long-term contracts are modest and/or their futures are so bright.
These guys make so little money that there is little incentive for their teams to trade them. The possible exceptions include players like Thames and Diaz, who are old for this group and could possibly be had for multiple younger players, and Church so far I can't find contract information on him. (Ethier is included for comparison. You look at Ethier's age and overall 2006 performance, and while he won't hit .340 anytime soon, I wouldn't panic that he's a pan flash.)
Vets with One Inexpensive Year to Go
The salaries in this group are modest enough, relative to their production, that they figure to stay put. Cameron might be the most overpriced, especially considering his age, but don't hold your breath for a San Diego-Los Angeles trade.
Vets with One Expensive Year to Go
Jones or Dunn might be available in a salary dump. Maybe Hunter as well, though the Twins just picked up his 2007 option in recent days. The beat-up Edmonds is probably on the verge of becoming a free agent, with the Cardinals very possibly buying out his 2007 option.
Somewhere in Between
Ibanez has been solid enough the past two seasons he sort of fits the babysitter profile, and could be procured if the Mariners try to rebuild. Jones is cheaper but not much of an impact player.
These guys are in line for fairly major salary jumps. Johnson and Cuddyer improved greatly in 2006 were those flukes? Bradley, believe it or not, ended the year with a higher EQA than Ethier (though Bradley played in fewer games). I'm thinking he's not headed back this way, however. Brown's been bumping around so long, he was a reserve for me when I was still playing Strat-o-Matic in the 1990s. Pena is on the rise with Boston. Kearns maybe.
Finally, here are the guys who don't require the Dodgers to sacrifice anything but money and draft picks (and in one case, peace in our time). Note the big difference in salary relative to the similar EQAs.
Where do the Dodgers go from here? I'm not sure. All I know is, there are very few cheap options to improve the outfield, and a lot of teams to compete with.
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