Monthly archives: January 2008
Lost Season Premiere Chat
If you're like me, you're feeling the excitement about tonight's Lost season premiere. I watched the episode two nights ago, and I'm still excited to chat about it.
So here's the game plan for tonight.
1) If you want to talk about Lost before or during the episode, follow this link to Screen Jam.
2) For more Lost chat after the episode, I ask that you go to the Variety blog Season Pass, where there will be a new post right at 10 p.m.
Ground rules: No chatting about anything that hasn't been seen by West Coast viewers, and no spoilers. That includes not talking about scenes from next week's episode.
Pinch Me, I'm Dreaming
Most pinch-hitting appearances in Los Angeles Dodger history: Dave Hansen tops the list with 539. Scroll down enough, though, and you'll see Fernando Valenzuela with 15!
And for good measure ... most times reaching base as a pinch-hitter in Los Angeles Dodger history.
On the list from the Dodgers:
5) Clayton Kershaw
Update 2: Keith Law of ESPN.com also came out with a Top 100 list today. From the Dodgers:
6) Clayton Kershaw
A couple of eagle-eyed commenters have noticed that Dodger pitcher D.J. Houlton won't be in the running for a spot on the staff anymore: He is heading for Japan.
Why Johan Santana Isnít a Dodger
Pending the negotiation of a long-term contract, the New York Mets have acquired Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana in what many analysts have decided is a steal, a heist, a grift, a shell game in a darkened subway station.
So, some might be asking, why aren't the Dodgers in on this job? Here are three reasons for starters:
1) Dodger general manager Ned Colletti did not participate in trade talks with Minnesota for the past several days, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times.
2) There is no indication that Santana would have been willing to sign a long-term contract with a West Coast team.
3) Though I don't think it's out of the question that the current Dodger leadership would ever offer a player a contract of the caliber Santana appears to be demanding $140 million or more for six or seven years it doesn't seem likely.
Now, those aren't insurmountable issues. Had they been surmounted, it's clear that the Dodgers had the players to match what the Mets offered the Twins. Having read various sources, I've come to the conclusion that not one player in the prospect package New York is sending Minnesota is of the caliber of Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw or Andy LaRoche, three Dodgers whose names were bandied as much as anyone's.
From Jim Callis at Baseball America:
Minnesota might be better off if (trade) talks collapse, giving new Twins GM Bill Smith a chance to find a better return for Santana. While he's going to command possibly the richest contract ever given to a pitcher, Santana is the best pitcher in the game. And Smith didn't get enough for him.
Guerra (No. 2), Gomez (No. 3), Mulvey (No. 4) and Humber (No. 7) all ranked prominently on our Mets Top 10 Prospects list. But there's simply too much risk involved in this deal for Minnesota.
The two best prospects in the trade, Guerra and Gomez, come with high ceilings but also lack a lot of polish and have a long ways to go to reach their potential. The odds that they both will do so are slim. They didn't get a prospect whose combination of ceiling and certainty approaches that of Hughes, whom the Yankees were willing to deal for Santana earlier in the winter. They didn't get a package comparable to the ones the Red Sox reportedly offered earlier, fronted by either Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester and also containing two solid prospects nearly ready for the majors: righty Justin Masterson and shortstop Jed Lowrie.
As it was, Minnesota's return doesn't compare favorably to the six-player package the Athletics extracted from the Diamondbacks for Dan Haren. The A's also got two quality arms from the White Sox for Nick Swisher.
Opines analyst John Sickels at Minor League Ball: "The Twins didn't get a sure-fire potential superstar here. Guerra might turn into a stud, but it's far from a sure thing. Mulvey and Humber should be useful pitchers, especially Mulvey, and Gomez should be OK but I don't buy into him as a star at this point."
In a sense, the price for Santana fell like the price of the nicest house on the block. It's still a great house, and it's still expensive, but it's not quite as unfathomably expensive as it was.
Should Colletti have jumped back in the talks? Well, I wouldn't have minded him being in the conversation at least. It wouldn't have been a one-year rental of Santana, because either a long-term contract would be negotiated, or the deal would fall through. It would be the most expensive pitcher contract in major league history, a daunting contract invested in someone playing the most fragile position in the sport, but I don't think it would have been an albatross. Allocating 15 percent of the payroll to a superstar is not an inherent mistake. I would do it for Santana; I would have done more for Alex Rodriguez.
You can almost guarantee that Santana will be hurt during a portion of the contract, but during the times he is healthy, he will vie to be the best pitcher in the National League. Would anyone have minded having the age 29-35 seasons of the less valuable Jason Schmidt, injuries and all?
But I am hardly going to lose sleep over Santana ending up elsewhere. The Dodgers still have one of the top pitching staffs in the league. Behind a front four of Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe, Hiroki Kuroda and Brad Penny are Jason Schmidt, Esteban Loaiza, Hong-Chih Kuo, James McDonald, Clayton Kershaw and Jonathan Meloan. As I pointed out in several columns earlier this year, every major league staff has vulnerabilities; the Dodger staff has fewer weaknesses than most. There could be some rough starts as the Dodgers figure out who's healthy and who's effective, but it's not as if Santana is going to pitch 33 shutouts either. As ToyCannon at True Blue L.A. writes, the Mets needed Santana much more than the Dodgers did.
There is something to be said for acquiring Santana just so that he's not a guy you have to face. In a tight race, Santana can be a difference maker. But the combination of prospects and salary that the Dodgers are retaining can also be a difference maker. I'm not sure that point has been emphasized enough.
I like Santana, just as I liked A-Rod, just as I like this core group the Dodgers are developing. We can thank the development of the farm system for the fact that the Johan Santana Deal or No Deal was not a make-or-break moment for the Dodgers.
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This was late Monday night, about 12 hours before the Mets would pounce upon their most dramatic trade in recent history. Twins' general manager Bill Smith, in a panic to move Johan Santana, called the Yankees and admitted surrender: Phil Hughes was no longer a prerequisite, he said. Instead, the Twins asked for Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera and a top prospect. Would the Yankees still be interested, Smith wondered?
The Yankees considered the idea, but only briefly and not seriously. Their passion for Santana started waning as far back as December, when Andy Pettitte announced he was returning to the Bronx. The Yankees' internal straw vote was unanimous: The Twins had waited too long. On Tuesday Yankees' GM Brian Cashman told Smith he was passing on the deal, prompting the Twins to call the Red Sox. Equally devastating news awaited. Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester were unavailable.
The Red Sox, in lock step with the Yankees, had essentially backed out, too.
Ramon Martinez II ... II
From Leung: My best memory of Ramon from last year came when Matt Kemp befuddled him with a greeting of, "What it do?"
The futures of the Dodgers and Angels are being debated at a chat hosted by Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com.
Can't both teams have bright futures?
Tracy Woodson didn't do much statistically for the 1988 Dodgers, but he bonded with Tommy Lasorda. Woodson is now the baseball coach at Valparaiso, and Lasorda paid him a visit as part of a fundraiser.
I don't recall Woodson's greatest moment as a Dodger, but I'm sure there was one. Who thinks they can find it?
To Beimel or Not To Beimel
Diamond Leung has a short menu of items that'll do for a late-January night, at the Press-Enterprise.
The Gibson Signing at 20
Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the day that magnificent beast, Kirk Gibson, joined the Dodgers. A flashback comes via Ross Newhan of the Times (courtesy of Bob Timmermann):
Eight years after the signings of Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse sent them into free-agent hibernation, the Dodgers have awakened aggressively.
Maybe it was the criticism they received for failing to pursue Tim Raines or the loss of 300,000 in attendance or the reality of their 146-178 record over the last two years.
Maybe it was all of that.
In any case, they have now signed three free agents - Kirk Gibson, Mike Davis and Don Sutton; failed in a pursuit of two more, Gary Gaetti and Dave Righetti, and shown a commitment to improving the team at considerable cost.
Bob Welch, who earned $800,000 last year, and Matt Young, who made $350,000, are gone, but the Dodgers have taken on $8,170,000 in payroll guarantees through the addition of just six players.
They are Gibson ($4.5 million for three years), Davis ($1.975 million for two years), Jesse Orosco (1988 salary of $1 million), Alfredo Griffin (1988 salary of $750,000), Jay Howell (1988 salary of $595,000) and Don Sutton (1988 salary of $350,000). ...
Gibson arrived in the major leagues with physical skills that were compared to Mickey Mantle's. Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson was among the first to say so. That potential has often been an albatross.
Cynics pound at his 100 or more strikeouts in each of the last four years, the absence of a .300 batting average (except for the strike year of 1981), the weak throwing arm.
"The only thing I'm guilty of is never living up to everybody else's expectations," Gibson said in an Associated Press interview Saturday.
From eyeblack to Eckersley, he more than surpassed our expectations, becoming the most meaningful free agent signing in Dodger history. But one fact that always struggles to keep pace with the legend is that Gibson wasn't just about grit: He hit the cover off the ball. In 1988, Gibson was ...
It all adds up to this: He was awesome.
(By the way, I was going to make a joke about Sutton's contributions to that 1988 team, but you know, it could have been worse.)
Previously on Dodger Thoughts: 'High School Is Far Away for Top Player Lieberthal'
Well the Names Have All Changed Since You've Come Around
Welcome back, Tom Martin. From Josh Rawitch at Inside the Dodgers:
Today we signed two more non-roster invitees to Spring Training and you will recognize both names. Mike Myers and the former Dodger, Tom Martin will both be coming to Spring Training. For Martin, this is his second time in camp as a non-roster guy and I still remember the first time he showed up at Dodgertown in the Spring of 2003. He was sitting at a table in the clubhouse and none of us had any idea who he was or what he was doing there. I was about to go over and ask him for his media credential when our clubhouse manager told me that he was a friend of Paul Shuey's and he had just tried out for the team and made it. A hard-throwing lefty, he was going to be with us throughout camp.
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Quick advertising note: Dodger Thoughts accepts political advertisements. They are unsolicited, and they do not necessarily reflect my own opinions. As far as the guideline against discussing politics on the site - that still stands. The fact that politcal ads can exist here isn't an invitation to political debate.
I still don't want partisan political discussions in the comments of Dodger Thoughts, although for the time being, I am allowing nonpartisan political comments.
In Variety this week, Todd McCarthy reviewed Sugar, a film about a Dominican Republic baseball player pursuing his career in the United States:
With a gently observant eye more on the lookout for revelatory cultural detail and emotional truth than for melodramatic excitement, "Sugar" intriguingly draws the curtain back on the seldom considered world of Dominican baseball players trying to make it in the United States. Sympathetic, genial and exceedingly wholesome, it's a film that, once seen, will permanently and favorably influence the way viewers regard the characters' real-life counterparts. ...
Although Dominican former World Series MVP Jose Rijo was a principal advisor and even appears here as an actor, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's follow-up to their widely admired "Half-Nelson" is no conventional success story of a young man stirringly bucking the odds to rise from obscurity to triumph. Rather, it takes stock of many the factors that can tip the balance for or against even a genuinely talented athlete to go all the way with his God-given gifts. ...
Observing without editorializing, Boden and Fleck open a hitherto unexplored world in a work that, in line with its title, leans toward the sweet rather than the gritty. Obstacles and pressures notwithstanding, Sugar's journey is seen as more of a life adventure than a do-or-die enterprise that will spell tragedy if not accomplished successfully; after all, most wannabe players from all locations never make it to the bigs, and far fewer still become stars.
The other side of this refreshing approach, however, is a lack of urgency and juice; only fleetingly does the film convey the thrill of competition, the anxiety of anticipation, the game's exhilarating highs and devastating lows, the complexity of friendships among young men competing for the same few available slots, the often raucous, taunting and bawdy camaraderie among jocks. Rather, the feeling the film imparts is of a knowledgeable inside view rather than a fully felt subjective one ....
They're Arrivin' Like Flies
Jose Vizcaino is returning to the Dodgers, as a special assistant in baseball operations. He will also be an on-field instructor during Spring Training and at the Dodgers' academy in the Dominican Republic.
I don't know if Vizcaino ever officially retired as a player, but he ended his career by going 8 for 23 in a final stint with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.
He began his career at age 21 with the Dodgers in 1989. Perhaps fate did not want the Dodgers to win a World Series while Vizcaino wore a major league uniform. Who's to say?
They're Droppin' Like Flies
Dave Collins, the manager of the Dodgers' Inland Empire A-ball team, has resigned, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
Update: From Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise: "John Valentin will manage the team after being named the team's hitting coach earlier this month. Rookie-level Ogden hitting coach Henry Cruz will take over Valentin's duties."
Which one of those two once played for the Dodgers? Careful - it was Cruz. There is an ex-Dodger of Valentinesque appellation, but it's Jose.
Cruz had 16 hits for the Dodgers in 1976, but seven of them were for extra-bases.
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Dodger Thoughts commenter LAT went to a luncheon Wednesday at the stadium at which general manager Ned Colletti spoke. He filed this report.
Martin Passes on Long Term
There's usually no news to report from the online chats at Dodgers.com, but Tuesday general manager Ned Colletti disclosed that Russell Martin's agent declined to pursue a long-term contract with the Dodgers this offseason.
Actually, it's unclear from Colletti's words whether Martin declined a specific offer or declined to negotiate at this time. Either way, it'll be a one-year deal for the team's All-Star catcher until further notice.
Coincidentally (not ironically, folks, but coincidentally), this news came less than 24 hours before Tampa Bay announced the longest contract that I believe a non-free agent pitcher has ever received: four years plus three annual team options for 26-year-old righty James Shields, according to Dick Scanlon of The Lakeland Ledger. Shields moved into the Rays' starting rotation in May 2006, the same month that Martin (who turns 24 on February 15) became the Dodgers' starting catcher.
Coach, Husband, Father, Scout
In Friday Night Lights, Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) took an assistant coaching job at the equivalent of the University of Texas, only to quit in midseason to rejoin his wife and daughters (one a teenager, the other an infant) back in the smaller town of Dillon.
If Jack Curry's article in the New York Times is any indication (link courtesy of commenter Dodgers49), something similar happened with erstwhile Dodger hitting coach Don Mattingly.
As recently as last month, Mattingly spoke excitedly about his new position. But Ray Schulte, Mattingly's agent, said unspecified family issues caused Mattingly to revise his plans.
"Everything is fine medically," said Schulte, referring to Mattingly's family. "It really boils down to he's got Kim and Jordon at home and that's his priority. With the change in jobs and the constant traveling, he couldn't do it and also be there for his family. He couldn't do both." ...
Schulte said that Mattingly and (Dodger manager Joe) Torre typically speak every day and that Mattingly planned to remain as available as possible to Torre. ...
Schulte said Mattingly expected to return to a regular coaching position with the Dodgers in 2009.
"He's looking forward to next year when he can do it full time," Schulte said. "He still wants to be a manager some day."
Tony Jackson of the Daily News asked Dodger general manger Ned Colletti about Mattingly in '09.
"We're open-minded to it," Colletti said.
"We'll see how it goes, but that is all I can say right now. I can't predict the future for Donnie. He will continue to work in the organization, but he'll be able to spend more time back home, which is important to him. From time to time, he will be with the club or take a look around the minor leagues. He'll continue to stay vested with the Dodgers and continue to contribute."
Mattingly will attend the early stages of spring training. During the season, he is expected to make occasional visits to the Dodgers' minor-league affiliates, as well as joining the big-league club as a pregame instructor during visits to cities near Evansville such as Chicago, Cincinnati and possibly Milwaukee and St. Louis. ...
While being careful not to officially confirm that Mattingly was ever in line to replace Torre, Colletti indicated that if he was, that hasn't necessarily changed.
"It's too early to tell, but my opinion of him hasn't changed," Colletti said. "I think there is still a great amount of intellect that he can bring to the organization, and we're glad he is still a part of the organization. We will see what transpires in the next months and years and how it all grows together. But I could have said that back in November."
As Jackson points out, Mattingly's future affects the future of his replacement, Mike Easler. Easler might be sensitive to this. Back in 2001, he filed a lawsuit against the St. Louis Cardinals after being relieved of his hitting coach duties - only to almost immediately drop the suit.
According to The Associated Press:
The suit, filed in state court, charges the Cardinals with wrongful termination, defamation of character and invasion of privacy, and seeks damages in excess of $25,000 and additional punitive damages.
"Mike wants closure to this," said James Schottel Jr., Easler's attorney. "He wants another opportunity to be a hitting coach and eventually an opportunity as a manager."
Easler was in his third season with the Cardinals when he was reassigned July 13. He was offered a spot as a roving minor league hitting coach and declined. ...
In the petition, Easler admits he missed a nine-game road trip prior to the All-Star break, blaming the absence on several unspecified health conditions. But he insists he kept the Cardinals informed of his whereabouts and treatment.
Easler charges that Cardinals trainer Barry Weinberg and team physician Jim Loomis asked an emergency room doctor at Saint Louis University Hospital to "give (Easler) some medicine and tell (Easler) to catch the next flight out in the morning" to rejoin the Cardinals on the road.
Instead, Easler went home to San Antonio and was treated by his personal doctor. When he rejoined the club, the suit says, the Cardinals informed Easler he was being replaced.
"After years of advancing through the major league baseball system, (the Cardinals) deliberately rendered (Easler's) working condition, in being demoted to the minors, so intolerable that (Easler) was forced to resign and thus constructively discharged," the suit says.
The suit also alleges that public comments made by Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty about Easler's removal -- specifically "Mike had some personal issues he had to deal with" -- were knowingly false and have "caused irreparable harm ... in that (Easler) is and will be unable to find employment in major league baseball as a hitting coach or manager."
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Josh Wilker once wrote about Easler at Cardboard Gods. Or, more to the point, he used Easler as a jumping off point ...
Easler Replaces Mattingly as Hitting Coach
In a sudden, unexpected announcement, the Dodgers said today that Mike Easler will be the team hitting coach this year instead of Don Mattingly, because of undisclosed family reasons for Mattingly.
Mattingly will be a coach on special assignment - which I take to mean, he'll work at his own pace as time permits.
"I'm very grateful that the Dodgers have allowed me to take care of these family matters and I hope that everyone can respect our privacy during this time," Mattingly said in a press release. "I truly appreciate the support of all Dodger fans since joining the organization and I look forward to helping the team win in 2008 and beyond."
Also from the release:
Easler, 57, was the St. Louis Cardinals' hitting coach from 1999-2001 and served in the same capacity for the Brewers (1992) and Red Sox (1993-94). He spent the last two seasons as a hitting coach in the Dodgers' minor league system, first with Double-A Jacksonville in 2006 before being promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas prior to last season. In that role, he worked extensively with Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andy LaRoche, Tony Abreu, Delwyn Young and Chin-lung Hu, among other Dodger prospects.
The Cardinals reached the postseason in two of his three years as a hitting coach, ranking third in the NL with a .270 batting average and fifth in the league with a .339 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage in 2001, his last year as a big league coach.
General manager Ned Colletti is chatting at Dodgers.com at 2 p.m. today.
The Annual 'I've Got It All Figured Out' Stories Begin
Last year for Mark Hendrickson, it was the sports psychologist. This year, it's laser surgery.
From Frank Bodani of the York Daily Record (thanks to commenter Sam DC for the link):
Somehow, York County's Mark Hendrickson has pitched in the majors the past five seasons with terrible vision in one eye and only mediocre vision in the other.
Apparently, the kid who spent summers and holidays around family in York County always had eye problems. He fought wearing glasses and contacts growing up and simply adjusted without them. ...
The deciding moments came last summer when he couldn't see the ball clearly while hitting. He was 1-for-27 at the plate with 10 strikeouts.
"I'm not saying I'm a .300 hitter . . . but I was embarrassing myself."
Who's to say how his eye problems affected his pitching? He struggled last season but still showed flashes.
No matter, he had laser eye surgery a couple of weeks ago. He signed with a new team, the Florida Marlins, last week.
And he feels like he has a new lease on his baseball life.
Oh, by the way - so does Brett Tomko, according to Dick Kaegel of MLB.com (thanks to commenter Dodgers49 for the link):
The Dodgers had changed his delivery and his velocity dropped alarmingly.
"We just stripped down my mechanics, went back to my first 10 years in the big leagues and just tried to throw what was natural for me. It was night-and-day," Tomko said.
Meantime, the San Diego Padres called, seeking his help for their stretch run.
"I came back to San Diego, my velocity was back up to the low- to mid-90s and when I got back to starting, it was like a whole new pitcher," he said. "It was nice because, for a moment, I thought I lost it. There was a point during the season when it was like maybe I'm just done, maybe the gas tank is just on empty."
But, in seven games -- four starts -- for the Padres in September, Tomko was 2-1 with a 4.61 ERA and he had 26 strikeouts and just six walks in 27 1/3 innings.
"Last year was a bad year and I know a lot of people out there maybe thought I lost it, but I've got a lot to prove," he said. "And I started, I think, the last month to prove it."
Sorry to be so skeptical - I'm not rooting against these guys - but we see this stuff every year. Like other journeymen, they'll have their good moments, but it seems a little late for a revival.
Beyond that - um, baseball players, a public service announcement. Don't wait until the end of your career to correct your poor vision.
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There's a thread for Oscar nomination chat at Screen Jam.
An update of offseason affairs great and small ...
Management and coaching
Front office and staff
You can hear audio of an extended chat the Kamenetsky brothers (of the Times) held with Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp. I realized that in the past two years, I had hardly ever heard Kemp speak, so even though nothing earthshattering was said, I found it a nice get-acquainted experience.
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Scott Proctor and the Dodgers agreed to a 2008 contract, at a salary, according to Diamond Leung of the Press-Enterprise, of $1,150,000.
Scouting the Scouts
From a Dodger press release:
The Los Angeles Dodgers promoted Marty Lamb to East Coast Supervisor and hired Matt Paul as an Area Scout it was announced today. Lamb will assume responsibility for overseeing all area scouts on the East Coast and Puerto Rico while Paul will be responsible for scouting Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and parts of Indiana.
For the past nine seasons, Lamb has been as area scout with the Dodgers, covering parts of the southern United States and Midwest. The Denver native is credited with signing such Dodgers as Chad Billingsley, Eric Stults, and first-round draft picks Bryan Morris, and Preston Mattingly. Prior to scouting for the Dodgers, Lamb was an assistant coach at Texas Tech (1996-98) and Southern Mississippi University (1993-95).
"It is very fulfilling to promote Marty Lamb," said Dodger Assistant General Manager, Scouting Logan White. "Marty has been an integral part of our scouting department and has been instrumental in signing numerous ballplayers, many of whom are now Dodgers. He is a hard worker and a loyal employee, and I am very happy for him."
Paul, who played in the Dodgers' minor league system, begins his scouting career by taking over Lamb's territory. Drafted by the Dodgers in the 2004 First-Year Player draft as a second baseman from Southern University, Paul was sent to scout school last October by the Dodgers. He played two seasons with the Gulf Coast League Dodgers (2004-05) and was called up to Single-A Columbus in 2004. The Louisiana native also played in four games with the Vero Beach Dodgers in 2005 and is also the older brother of Dodger prospect Xavier Paul.
"The hiring of Matt Paul exemplifies the Dodgers' commitment to their players," said White. "Matt only got so far as a player but didn't want his career in baseball to end. We were proud to send him to scout school and we are proud to have him as a scout."
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Some veterans are balking, but at least one Dodger is looking forward to going to China in March, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times:
"I'd go," outfielder Matt Kemp said. "That's a great opportunity to go to another country that I've never been to, do a little sight-seeing and play some ball. That's pretty interesting."
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Jason Repko agreed to a one-year contract with the Dodgers. According to Hernandez, he is guaranteed $487,500, could earn a $12,500 bonus for making 100 plate appearances, and $25,000 more for his 150th, 250th and 350th plate appearances (each).
With an option remaining, Repko could well start the season in the minor leagues, assuming Delwyn Young grabs the fifth outfielder spot for his pinch-hitting and emergency infield potential. But he's a rather cheap insurance policy in case of injuries.
MLB.com has the numbers submitted by players and teams for salary arbitration. For the Dodgers:
Hearings will be held during the first three weeks of February, though negotiations can continue until a ruling is made. Otherwise, either the player or the team figure will be chosen - no in-betweens.
Aybar, Hendrickson Head for the Sunshine State
In 105 career Major League games for the Dodgers and the Braves, the switch-hitting Aybar has a .292 average with five home runs, 40 RBIs and a .387 on-base percentage; he has played 81 games at third base and 21 at second. Friedman said the Rays plan to look at him at first and in the outfield as well.
(Rays executive Andrew) Friedman did not back away from addressing Aybar's problems off the field.
"We did a lot of due diligence into his problems from last year," Friedman said. "While we recognized it's a risk, we feel it's a risk worth taking."
Friedman said Aybar's problem "needs to be monitored."
"And it's something we will be aggressive to help him any way we can to put a support network into place," said Friedman, who noted such issues are a private matter.
Aybar has spent the offseason playing third base for Licey in the Dominican Winter League, batting .268 in 27 regular-season games. He is currently hitting .339 for Licey in the league's round-robin tournament with a home run and six RBIs.
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Lee Panas of Detroit Tiger Tales has been assimilating (maybe that's not quite the right word) different defensive metrics, and finds that Andruw Jones was tops in the National League at his position in runs saved.
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Finally, a souvenir photo from Wednesday: Andy LaRoche
Gray Skies Are Gonna Clear Up
Fog is often considered an ill omen, but there was something strangely soothing about finding Dodger Stadium this morning in deep cloud cover and 50-degree temperatures. After all, January is a little early for things to be heating up, literally or figuratively.
The Dodgers opened their rookie minicamp to the media today, and tantalized by the prospect of a winter's visit to the ballpark, I carved out the opportunity (at the expense of having to make up my work at some pretty odd hours this week) to grab an early taste of 2008.
Several young Dodgers - some candidates for the team coming out of Spring Training, others further down the line - worked out in relative anonymity. Not all their faces are familiar (to me, at least), and none wore names or numbers on their workout gear. For example, though I'm sure their mothers could tell them apart, there was much talk about how Andy LaRoche and (I think) Blake DeWitt looked like each other. So if you're looking for a scouting report on how everyone's swing looked, look elsewhere.
But general manager Ned Colletti, assistant general manager of player development De Jon Watson, head trainer Stan Conte and some of the prospects gave interviews today, and those of us in attendance came away with something of a status report.
"Andy and Nomar give us two good options at third base," Colletti said. "We're gonna let them figure it out. I think (Andy) is on the verge of being where (James) Loney and (Matt) Kemp were a year ago, where (Andre) Ethier and (Russell) Martin were two years ago. It's time to give him an opportunity to stick with the club and play as much as he earns."
"I think it's unfair to either player to have any preconceived notions of how it's gonna turn out. There'll be ample opportunity for both. Nomar's got the versatility to play some first base as well. James is gonna need a day off here or there.
"It's probably the first Spring Training where (Andy) has had more than a legitimate chance to make this club. Most of the time a player has to make the club. He's almost gonna have to not make the club. It's a pretty good spot to be in."
Further, LaRoche could very well remain on the team even if he's not in the lineup every day.
"You have to really look at the composition of your roster," Colletti said. "You're gonna need availability as well. I think in LaRoche's case, if he can be productive even part-time, I'd be willing to give him an opportunity to stay. Abreu, due to his versatility in the infield, perhaps the same. I think both players may have an opportunity to be here less than full-time.
"You try to manage the needs of the club with the player's place and time, too. We need somebody with Abreu's versatility. We need somebody with (Chin-Lung) Hu's versatility at least one or the other, if not both (though later Colletti downplayed the idea of Abreu and Hu both starting the season in Los Angeles). If Andy can produce power, even if it's once in a while, or if Nomar takes the job, that's okay too."
"That said, if the roster shakes out and he has a great spring and we start the season and he doesn't make the club out of the camp, but he's had a great spring, that doesn't mean he's down in Las Vegas the entire year. As we say every year during the Freeway Series, our roster locked in for a day."
"I struggled pretty bigtime up here at the plate," he said. "We looked back at my swing and it was a completely different swing than what I had in the minor leagues. I think I was trying to prove too much, too quickly. Instead of just staying relaxed, I think I was trying to hit too many home runs, and I was pulling off the ball, and a lot of things like that, instead of just staying relaxed, taking the same approach, just trying to get a line-drive base hit. You know, the home runs will come,"
He added that he has already begun working with new Dodger hitting coach Don Mattingly a process accelerated by the January minicamp to get his swing back the way it should be.
Neither Colletti nor LaRoche currently view his back as a concern.
"He seems to be doing fine," Colletti said, "and it's our understanding if he stays in proper condition and works out, it ceases to be any detriment whatsoever."
LaRoche said his back feels "great," and that he needs to do exercises a few times a week, 10 to 15 minutes a day.
"The last time I got hurt during the season, the last time I missed any games because of my back, that's the last time it's hurt me at all," he said. "Coming in, I wasn't sure how taking all these grounders was going to feel last week, but it's been fine."
"It's a Joe Torre question, but it's not out of the realm of possibility," Colletti said.
"I'm fine with the outfield as it is. I like the versatility of it. I like the depth of it. I like the competition of it. Nothing wrong with competition. When you have competition, you have a chance to be a better club. Just like at third base. Let the players decide who's gonna play and how often they're gonna play."
"We'll see how everybody pitches," Colletti said. "If he continues to progress, there's a great chance he'll be ready to go. But there's still a long way to go, and a lot of different tests that he has to pass, so to speak. But we've had nothing to discourage us. He's been throwing a while now. He's throwing off a mound. As of about two weeks ago, he was throwing every other day, on flat ground, about 100 throws a day, and now he's off the mound. Again, not 100 percent throwing, not everything-he's-got throwing, but continuing to (build) his arm strength."
Conte will visit Schmidt later this month, aiming to smooth his transition to Spring Training.
"We've been really concerned in developing a lot of strength and flexibility at each phase of this," Conte said, "and making sure we don't have any setbacks. We're going to continue to do the same thing not based on the calendar. As far as where he's going to be in Spring Training, I'll tell you guys the same thing I tell Ned Colletti when he asks me: 'We won't really know what he's going to do the first day of Spring Training until about a week before, depending on how he does the next three or four weeks.' "
Of course, this depends in part on Schmidt being forthcoming about any problems.
"We've told him that if he doesn't tell us, we're gonna beat him with a stick to a pulp," Conte said. "Jason knows exactly what's at stake here. There's no reason for him to lie to me yet."
Conte has hopes Schmidt will be 100 percent for the season, but it wasn't any kind of guarantee. Conte also didn't want to be pigeonholed as to what "100 percent" meant, other than health as opposed to quality of performance.
"Hopefully, Kuo's healthy," Colletti said. "We had the same hope a year ago, after how he pitched at the end of the '06 season. He's another one that feels fine right now, but we'll have to wait and see. We could use him. We don't have many left-handed pitchers. Greg Miller's another one, another lefthander that's got a chance to make this club. We're not at appoint yet where we know if we're going to go with 11 or 12 pitchers, but you do the math, we don't have or 11 or 12 that we can lock in today."
Watson also commented positively about Miller, who will be competing for a bullpen job.
"He was healthy all of 2007," Watson said. "We worked on the command. He was in Arizona Fall League, and he's healthy. The velocity was back last year he was anywhere from 92 to 97 (mph) the entire year. The command was the thing we were really trying to harness through the course of the year."
Watson said the Dodgers do plan to convert 2007 minor-league relief ace Jonathan Meloan to a starting pitching role, and that's how he'll begin the season (one would think in Las Vegas).
"He's not somebody that we're going to delay his arrival," Colletti said. "He'll be here when he's ready. He may be here before he's completely ready, depending on injuries. But there's still some refinement for him, still some of the finer points of the art of pitching that he's still learning. He's not 20 years old yet. But he's got tremendous ability."
Watson seemed open-minded about the idea of promoting young players, be they Kershaw, James McDonald or someone else. One of the purposes of the current minicamp is to prepare for that, by letting the Dodgers become more acquainted with the prospect and by letting the prospect become more acquainted with Los Angeles.
"I think you really need to look at the player," Watson said. "The player's character and makeup, how he handles situations, the amount of innings he's had through the minor leagues to get himself prepared to come and perform at the major league level. His overall tool set and how does it fit and how it will play against some of the better players at the major-league level against any player at the major league level. There's no league higher than the big leagues.
"As they're progressing through the minor-league system, they start separating themselves. They're showing you their attributes, and what they can or can't do, and our job on the player development side is to close that gap on the things they can't do, so that they are a well-rounded major-league player, whether it be a pitcher or a position player. Getting them comfortable in the environment so that they can have that sense of "I've been here, I've done this before.'
"Can you rush a kid? Sure, some kids can get rushed. But for us, we want to make sure that we've done everything possible to prepare that player for coming to the major leagues, and we wouldn't recommend him to be ready if we didn't think he was ready to come here and handle it the entire aspects on the field, off the field."
And that includes keeping tabs on the player after his debut, to guide him through the on-field setbacks.
"I try not to (think about it)," said the lefty, who turns 20 on March 19, "but I kind of figure if I have a good start every time I go out, and if I pitch well, then I've got the opportunity to maybe get up here later in the year and help them out. If that happens, that'll be a dream come true for me, and if it doesn't, I'll have next year too. So I'm really not worried about it."
Kershaw had a productive offseason, but didn't work too hard. He said he felt well-rested, noting that he took a month off at the end of the season, then pitched lightly in instructional league. He is eager to improve.
"Next season I'm really going to start working on my changeup, really start trying to perfect that, making it a pitch that I can throw in any count. And really overall just more strikes I know that's pretty much what every pitcher tries to do, but at the same time, it's really going to help me if I can just attack the zone a little bit more and cut down on my walks."
Kershaw said his control wasn't a mental thing although the more he talked about it, the more it seemed like a mental thing.
"It's a lot of things pitching-wise, as far as really being aggressive, really not lapsing in any concentration things. You've got to focus on every hitter, and I learned that when I got up to Double-A."
Kershaw said he has benefited from this month's minicamp.
"Marty Reed is the pitching coordinator, and he always works with me. He's always a real big help for me. And it's really good whenever I get to work with him. And (pitching coach) Rick Honeycutt was out here for my first bullpen (session), and that was a great experience for me, just to see what he expects from his pitchers."
Colletti said it was too soon to discuss whether Kershaw could come up in a bullpen role. Kershaw said he had never pitched out of the bullpen, but added that "as long as you can condition your arm to get ready a little faster I think I could do it."
"Our bench right now on a given day would be a young bench," Colletti said. "We can improve that with a veteran. There's not a team in baseball that wouldn't add another pitcher, so if that opportunity presents itself, we'll follow that as well.
The Dodgers have been talking to free agents Mark Sweeney and Rudy Seanez from the 2007 team, but nothing concrete has developed, and they might move forward without one or both.
Colletti said that Delwyn Young is definitely in consideration to be a key pinch-hitter off the bench, despite his youth. And even though Hu is a longer shot to make the team in April, Colletti had high praise for him.
"Obviously, he played up here last September and did pretty well," Colletti said. "I think he's on the verge of being a big-league player. He may be somebody that is where Andy LaRoche was a year ago, where maybe barring an injury, it may be tougher for him to make the big-league club out of camp. Doesn't mean he won't. He may come in and he may end up beating out Abreu. Tough to say.
"But (Hu) can play both sides of the bag, he's become a stronger player, and he's probably made us think about twice more than anybody lately, and he's also advanced from two years ago to last year probably more than anybody."
"The one thing you can't duplicate at the minor-league level is the pace of the game and the flow of the game," Watson said. "The quality of pitching that they're going to see up here or the players on the other side of the baseball on the defensive end. These guys are all Abreu, DY, Chin-Lung Hu they're seem to be ready to play here."
"Delwyn he's shown that he can hit, and the ability to make adjustments off the bench. Well, the pitchers that he's going to face here, I can't get those guys to perform or play or match up against us every time in Vegas. So for him, he's ready to see (the best). When he came here last year, we looked at his performance at Vegas as well as what he did at the major-league level. He's ready."
"Spring Training for me, instead of a movie, it's almost slide by slide," he said. "Whenever I see a hitter's at-bat, I see how they handle whoever's pitching pitch-to-pitch. Spring Training to me is a lot of chapters, a lot of individual chapters to where a player's at.
"How a young player handles himself in Spring Training really sets the tone for the thought process for a season, because there'll be some players every spring, probably three or four, that have great springs. They're not quite ready to play in the big leagues, or you've got somebody that's more established already playing, but teams go through so many players in the course of a year, the impression a player leaves in Spring Training lasts a long time. Invariably, the ones who had the solid spring are the ones who come to mind, even if there's somebody in the minor leagues that's perhaps got more experience than they do.
"It gives us all an indication to a lot of things, including their work ethic, including their ability to adjust to a different situation."
We talked a little about players like Wilson Valdez, players whose springs seem to belie their true ability. Colletti acknowledged that in those cases, he's trying to ride the crest of what might be a soon-to-collapse wave.
"You're hoping he's made a leap," Colletti said. "When any player that's in his late 20s and been around a little bit, you have a pretty good idea of who he is, and you think that perhaps he's made a leap. And even if he hasn't made the full complete leap at this point in the season, at this point in time, he's pretty good and deserves a chance to make a big league club."
By the time the session was ending, the fog was long gone, and I could feel the warm sun on my face full-stop. You can hide, but you can't run. The 2008 season is coming, faster than you know.
Brazoban Signs for 2008
The Associated Press is reporting that the Dodgers and Yhency Brazoban avoided a salary arbitration hearing by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $540,000, plus up to $120,000 in performance bonuses ("$25,000 for appearing in 30 games, another $35,000 for appearing in 40, an additional $35,000 for 50 games, and another $25,000 for making 60 appearances.")
Elbow and shoulder maladies have limited Brazoban, who will be 28 in June (seems like he aged overnight), to 6 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, but with 97 strikeouts in 112 career innings, he's worth another shot.
Pitchers are human too - which means, sometimes they can even show us some power at the plate. This chart lists every homer hit by a Los Angeles Dodger pitcher, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Some of these ring a bell you could hear from here to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but others muster not even a wee little ting.
Some quick notes:
Johnny Podres, The Man Who Brought Next Year, Dies
Bottom of the 9th, Yankees batting, behind 0-2, Johnny Podres facing 6-7-8
Most won't remember, but Podres pitched eight seasons in Los Angeles, including eight innings of shutout ball in Game 3 of the 1963 World Series.
Dodger general manager Ned Colletti gave David Laurila an interview for Baseball Prospectus. The first half offers Colletti's reactions to the recent Hall of Fame vote; the second offers his thoughts about the Dodgers - thoughts that hit the familiar talking points.
Here's prototypical Colletti:
DL: Given your young talent and the impact-players reportedly on the market, trade rumors are inevitable. With that in mind, do you feel that everyone in the organization is on the same page with the philosophy of building from within?
NC: I believe that we're all on the same page. We have stayed the course without trading our core of young players. We've traded a handful of prospects, but those who we have the most faith in we have held on to. While we wait for them to develop we've tried to bridge the gap with some free agent signings, but that's something you need to do. Baseball isn't an easy game to play at this level, especially in a major market with high expectations. Our view is that players coming up need to almost dominate at the Triple-A level, and in some cases at the Double-A level, if their maturity and skill set is exceptional. We want to make sure that a given player is ready to compete at the major league level and help us win. Sometimes because of injuries we aren't allowed that full development time, but whenever possible we like to be as certain as possible that the player is prepared for the expectations of playing at the highest level for a full season.
DL: You've received some criticism for not being aggressive enough in giving your younger players an opportunity. Following up on what you were just saying, is that fair?
NC: Hindsight is never a fair judge. If we believe that a player is completely prepared to take over a big league position full-time, for a full season, we'll do that. Those off-season decisions are really based on what was witnessed during the last full season by our staff, the player development staff and our scouts. If we have some doubt, we like to have a veteran in that position--especially in a big market--until we are more certain that the young player is ready. If you provide a young player with the position prematurely and the speed of the game and the pressures of the big leagues exceed where that player is at, at that point in his career, then we have done an injustice to the team and to the young player. And finding out that we've overestimated a young player 50 games into the season is a very difficult point of the season to make an adjustment.
In other words, younger players are held to a higher standard of performance than older players, out of fear that struggle will be overly detrimental to a young player's career. Maybe that's valid; on the other hand, sometimes I wonder whether this common mythology is actually true. Not every player is Edwin Jackson (putting aside whether his early callup really was the reason for his later struggles.) For some players, an early struggle is going to be just a speed bump.
And then you have a player like James Loney, who dominated AAA in 2006, didn't get put on the roster at the start of 2007, then struggled in AAA in 2007, then got the callup and thrived in the majors. From exception to exceptional.
It's not that Colletti's philosophy is necessarily wrong. It's that it's filled with assumptions that, however time-honored, might not be valid - at least for every player.
Colletti is transitioning the Dodgers into a younger group: kids will start the season in at least three spots in the lineup and potentially as many as five. Jeff Kent could soon be the only regular over the age of 31. It's not a war with youth; it's just a different timetable. I happen to think that timetable can be an "injustice to the team," especially when it leads to deleterious contract signings, but others' mileage may vary.
The Pre-Pre-Preseason Is Underway
The Dodgers are getting a jump on Spring Training with a mini-camp. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has the details.
Pitchers and catchers report to Dodgertown on Feb. 14, but De Jon Watson couldn't wait for that.
Watson, assistant general manager for player development, has the cream of the farm system crop at Dodger Stadium this week and next for the organization's first winter mini-camp. Halfway through, it's a big success.
"There's already been a lot of positive feedback," said Watson, recently promoted to his new title after being hired as farm director only a year ago. "This is something I've always wanted to do, something I mentioned during my interview process. I just thought it was a great tool to implement in helping our young players with the transition from the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues." ...
Each day begins with a spring-like workout at the ballpark, but the afternoons include classroom sessions ranging from strategy to personal security to dealing with the media. Among guest lecturers brought in: legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider, Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda, former MVP and Cy Young winner Don Newcombe and longtime Southland sportscaster Jim Hill. There will be a farewell dinner next week with an unnamed celebrity guest.
"The idea," said Watson, "is to bring in guys recently promoted to the 40-man roster and the core of our younger players who might reach the Major Leagues in 2008 or 2009 and get them prepared and accustomed to the surroundings -- where to go to eat, how to get into the ballpark. It can be overwhelming and intimidating the first time. We're trying to create a comfort level and make the transition easier."
Watson said the mini-camp also allows club officials to get a line on each player's conditioning prior to Spring Training and to "tweak" flaws in a pitcher's delivery or a hitter's swing prior to the start of the real camp, where the player is focused on making a club. ...
* * *
Former Dodger scout Mel Didier, 81, has written a book about his experiences, reports Dan McDonald of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser:
The subtitle, "A Baseball Life," isn't just a catch phrase. It's something Didier has lived - and he has the stories to prove it.
The most famous - Didier tipping off Kirk Gibson on the pitch to expect prior to his dramatic walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series - is described in detail. Others aren't as well known, but just as fascinating.
Who knew that Didier snuck into Cuba at the height of the Cold War, looking to bring some of the talented Cuban players back to the Montreal Expos, and then had strings pulled to get him aboard a Russian jet to get out of the country.
Future basketball legend Bob Pettit's first organized-game coach? Mel Didier.
Didier sat in meetings with Bear Bryant, battled with Buck O'Neill for a young baseball prospect named Lou Brock, and watched while a passport-less Tommy Lasorda called the president of the Dominican Republic from the airport and suddenly didn't need a passport to board a flight.
"He's had a love affair with the game of baseball for as long as his family and closest friends can remember," said former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire in a foreword. "I don't know of anyone who has been in more baseball parks throughout the world. And every time Mel enters a park you can hear the enthusiasm in his voice and you can see the joy in his eyes." ...
* * *
The Dodgers continue to negotiate their Spring Training exit from Vero Beach, writes Laurel Scheffel at TCPalm.com.
County administrator Joe Baird said Wednesday his counsel at Bryant, Miller & Olive in Tallahassee is working with Dodgers general counsel Sam Fernandez on the matter.
"At this time they seem to be cooperative in discussing an exit agreement," Baird said. "It's just things like, when you leave what are you going to do, what are we going to do, is there going to be any compensation? Those are things being discussed."
Baird currently considers the Dodgers in breach of contract because they will be ducking out on a lease set to keep them in Vero Beach through 2020.
The economic damages of the team's departure could be costly, Baird said, and the Dodgers may be penalized for those damages.
He plans to cite an economic impact analysis the Dodgers conducted through a consultant they hired prior to applying for grant money to renovate Dodgertown in 2003. ...
Update: Robin Ventura has been to Ankle Hell and lived to tell the tale, writes Marty Noble at MLB.com:
Twenty-six months ago, Ventura underwent ankle transplant surgery. A piece of bone harvested from a cadaver was inserted into his right ankle, the ankle he grotesquely mangled in a slide at the plate in Spring Training, 1997.
The ankle allograft has made the former Mets and White Sox third baseman whole again as well as something of a curiosity. The sense of wonder has subsided to a degree within Ventura, but most others who become aware of what he had endured are incredulous -- or merely non-believers.
"They say, 'Really, what did you have done?'" Ventura said. "Most people aren't very familiar with the procedure."
Ventura was forced to become quite familiar with it when walking became a hardship in 2005. The condition of his ankle had ended his career prematurely following the previous season, his 16th season in the big leagues and his second with the Dodgers. And the condition deteriorated significantly in his first months away from the game.
"Most mornings I needed an hour to get past the pain and get going," he said Thursday night from his home in California. "The mornings it didn't take an hour, it took longer."
Ventura relied on a cane five out of seven days and limped conspicuously despite it. Physical activity was out of the question. His wife, Stephanie, did most of the driving, dropping off her disabled husband as close as possible to their destination. ...
Defensive charts on every major leaguer - and that includes the Dodgers! - for the 2007 season have been posted by David Pinto of Baseball Musings.
The horizontal illustrates a slice of the field - in the example here, from just inside third base to the right side of second base for Rafael Furcal. The vertical gives you the difference between actual outs and predicted outs. So in Furcal's case, his biggest strength is just to the left of second base, although more grounders come to the left of that spot.
It's a lot to digest, but have at it.
Obscure but Memorable Dodgers: 2000s Edition
Here's a list of everyone who has played for the Dodgers in the 2000s, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Shawn Green is the leader in games played for the Dodgers this decade, with 798. The team's active leader is Jeff Kent, with 400.
In two seasons, Rafael Furcal has played in 297 games, good for second on the active list and 11th on the decade list. (Close behind Furcal are Andre Ethier (279), Russell Martin (272) and Nomar Garciaparra (243).) With only an expected 324 regular-season games remaining in the oughts, Green should be able to hold his lead, unless the Dodgers trade for someone like Adrian Beltre (737).
I'm particularly fond of the bottom of the games-played list so fond, in fact, that I put the bottom at the top when I did my search. Four players were in one game for the Dodgers this decade: Scott Mullen, Bryan Corey, Mike Judd and Adam Melhuse. Jamie Arnold and Trever Miller were each in two games, and Einar Diaz, Koyie Hill, Robert Ellis and Brian Johnson each played three games.
Can you believe Lance Carter only pitched in 10 games for Los Angeles? Didn't it seem like a lot more?
Take a trip down Recent Memory Lane by clicking above to look at the entire list. Who's your choice for Most Obscure but Memorable Dodger from the 2000s? Jose Flores? Masao Kida? Mike Rose? Dare I say Buddy Carlyle?
Britney Spears and the Dodgers
No, it's not a dating story. Rather, it's a philosophical question. Is coverage of the likes of Britney Spears any more frivolous than coverage of the Dodgers?
(California section editor David Lauter) also addressed concerns that The Times devotes too much time and attention to the Spears saga: "A great news organization ought to be able to do more than one thing at a time, and we do." He points to the coverage in the paper that same day: "As the reader noted, there's a war going on, and The Times' news report on that day -- as on virtually every day in the last four and a half years -- included a story from one of our staff writers in our Baghdad bureau. The day's news report also included two front-page stories on the presidential campaign, an analysis of the latest economic trends which may indicate a recession in the coming year and a major new study on the cancer risk from toxic air pollutants in Southern California. Inside the front section, in addition to the war and the presidential campaign, we had stories from Times staff writers in Kenya, France, Israel, Pakistan, Colombia, Peru and Washington and several stories by our science writers.
"On the local front, in addition to the story on toxic air pollutants, our staff writers produced 15 stories on a range of topics that included allegations of police corruption, a major conservation decision involving land preservation in the hills above Glendale, religion on college campuses and the year's first homicide in downtown LA. And then there was Britney. The odds are long against any one reader's being interested in each and every one of those stories. That's why a news organization, whether in print or online, needs to offer a broad range of stories. The goal is to hold a mirror up to daily life in all its splendid diversity. The passing circus is part of that life, particularly here in Southern California, where the whirl of celebrity is very much a part of the fabric. That circus is as much a legitimate subject for coverage as the Dodgers or the Lakers, which our Sports section covers routinely without anyone worrying that they contribute to the 'dumbing down' of America." (Emphasis mine.)
Readers of this site have seen me question my own devotion to writing about the Dodgers - in the midst of continuing to do it - so I couldn't help but find Lauter's comparison interesting.
As far as a major newspaper like the Times is concerned, my feeling is that if you've done what you need to do on the important issues of the day, there's no reason you shouldn't cover the human interest stories, however banal they might be - keeping in mind you should always bring an intelligent, thoughtful approach to any story, big or small.
The question becomes whether or not more important stories get lost in the shuffle. On the one hand, there is certainly more important work to be done in the Times on any given day than writing about the Dodgers or Britney. On the other hand, if you don't cover the Dodgers or Britney (or devote space to the comics, fashion, etc.), will most people bother to get your newspaper or go to your website and see any of your stories?
The only way to combat that mystery is to do exceptional work. I roll my eyes at some of the choices news organizations make, but in the end, what matters more is the quality of the writing and reporting. For the most part, you can't keep people from being interested in the frivolous. All you can do is try to make it worthwhile.
Sense and Sensibility
Jeff Kent, quoted by T.J. Simers in the Times today:
"Last year I might offer a one-line comment at the batting cage about hitting the curveball, and I'd get scoffed at, and a 'What the hell do you know?' in return. ...
"I don't get paid to take rookies out to dinner. I'm not a baby-sitter. I don't coach."
Why even try to make sense of it all?
The fact is, the clubhouse breakdown was overblown last year. I still think that the accusations have been one-sided - it's not that the kids shouldn't have respect for their teammates or be held accountable for their actions, it's that should be held to the same standard, publicly and privately.
It still bothers me when that doesn't happen. There are good eggs and bad eggs in every age group.
But in the end, what's important really is what happens on the field. And based on the premise that the presence of Joe Torre and the passage of time will limit how much clubhouse friction undermines on-the-field performance, we should probably just move on.
Not that it won't be a topic of conversation in the media all spring long ...
Normally, January finds me all too eager for the offseason to end and Spring Training to begin. But right now, the thought of the 2008 Dodger season brings me a strange feeling of burden.
As excited as I am about Matt Kemp, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier and Andy LaRoche it really is a long list, isn't it I fear the upcoming microanalysis of their performance. I want these players to be allowed to slump, to make mistakes, to breathe.
Martin, of course, is on the safest ground an All-Star catcher whom everyone likes. But even Martin is subject to questions about whether he is getting enough rest. It's not that the questions aren't legitimate; it's that they grow tiresome over the course of an entire season.
Billingsley and Loney took over starting spots in midseason, took them by the throat. But if they aren't gangbusters at the start of 2008, a number of people will question whether they are flukes.
No matter how many one-two-three eighth innings he pitches, Broxton will face the silly questions about whether he has a closer's makeup. LaRoche will always be looking over his shoulder when he starts if he starts. (In that respect, it's almost a relief that the third base job is Nomar Garciaparra's to lose.)
A conversation about Ethier implies a conversation about Juan Pierre. What could be more exasperating than that except for a conversation about Kemp's maturity and demeanor?
With all this talent coming together, I should feel nothing but excitement and anticipation. If I could have one wish come true for the Dodgers in 2008, it's that their fan and media base feel the same thing rather than looking at the players as something to claw and tear at, each and every misstep.
My sense is that a lot of fans share my attitude, but I also gather that the impatience for a champion, underscored by this being the 20th anniversary of the team's last World Series triumph, will make for a bumpy ride.
The '70s Were Years in the Making
You know those hallowed days of stability for the Dodgers in the 1970s? They only came after a whole lot of testing, sifting, shifting and most of all, waiting.
The Dodgers went six seasons, from 1967 to 1972, without winning 90 games or any kind of pennant. In 1973, the Dodgers sped up to 95 victories, only to meet a bitter end. They led the National League West for most of the summer before exploding their tires at the finish:
Team 9/1 After Final Dodgers 83-53 12-13 95-66 Reds 81-55 18-8 99-63
But after that blip of Wrong Way - Severe Tire Damage, the team recovered in 1974 to win 102 games and the NL championship.
There was little wasted effort in the 1973-74 offseason. Only two key members were acquired from outside the organization - though both pickups (Jimmy Wynn and Mike Marshall) were huge. Three starting pitchers (Al Downing, Tommy John and Andy Messersmith) had been acquired earlier in the 1970s.
Beyond that, heading into 1974, the Dodgers recognized the value of their younger players on the rise and continued placing their faith in them, despite the disappointment of the previous year and question marks about their ability.
Of the eight regulars in the lineup, seven were homegrown and under the age of 30. Six were under the age of 28. Four were 25 or under. But none were rookies in 1974. They were the product of much earlier drafts; they were all given time to develop - even stumble - in previous years. Bill Buckner batted .275 with eight home runs and 17 walks in a full season as a first baseman/outfielder in 1973, but got a new shot at the starting lineup at age 24 the following year. In the middle of 1973, Steve Garvey was little more than a man without a position.
In fact, even in '74, not all of the young Dodgers were all that extraordinary. But together, they formed something grand - a pennant-winner for 1974 and the basis for NL titlists in 1977 and 1978 and finally, a World Series winner in 1981.
The 1974 roster was a model of prudence, a product of measured faith. The 1973 lineup had one player above the age of 30 - beloved, productive homegrown star named Willie Davis - and he was replaced. The trade of a veteran pitcher heading for the downside of his career, Claude Osteen, enabled that replacement, while opening the door for a relatively unproven pitcher, Doug Rau, to take his spot.
Even the bench was populated with kids: Tom Paciorek, Von Joshua, Lee Lacy, Rick Auerbach - all 27 and under. Manny Mota, at age 36 the team's oldest hitter, had 293 at-bats in 1973 but 57 the following year. In 1974, players who were at least 30 years old accounted for only 829 of the team's 5,557 at-bats: 15 percent. They pitched 34 percent of the team's innings.
The big moves were few but paid off huge; the rest of the team's composition was the result of a multiyear effort to find the best way to take advantage of some fortuitous drafting and stockpiling.
Los Angeles had to live without a pennant for what must have seemed like an eternity at the time. No one argues today that it wasn't worth it.
Here's how it breaks down, position-by-position:
Catcher: Joe Ferguson (born 9/19/46) was the No. 1 catcher in 1973, playing 122 games there, with Steve Yeager (11/24/48) backing him up, but in the Dodgers' NL championship year of '74 the two really shared the position, with Yeager catching in 93 games and Ferguson 82.
Always known for his defense, Yeager arrived in 1972 and showed a more promising bat than you probably remember (124 OPS+, with 100 being the league average, in 35 games), then played 54 games in '73 (91 OPS+). Ferguson had made his Dodger debut back in 1970, but mostly as a bit part until '73, when he hit 25 homers and walked 87 times on his way to a 135 OPS+ season. Ferguson's bat also started getting him playing time in the outfield.
In 1974, at age 25, Yeager had a .283 EQA (.260 being average) while Ferguson (27) was at .304. By comparison, Russell Martin was at .293 last season.
First base: Called up as a third baseman in 1970, Steve Garvey (12/22/48) moved across the diamond for good in 1973. His bat had been developing steadily, but it wasn't necessarily an obvious move. Here's how Steve Delsohn describes it in his oral history of the team, True Blue:
In 1972, when Garvey made a whopping 28 errors in only 85 games, a majority of them came on wild throws. Garvey believes he knows why, even though throwing problems are always a little strange and mysterious.
"I had always had a strong arm," Garvey said. "And them my freshman year at Michigan State, I separated my shoulder playing football. It was enough of a separation that I never threw quite the same again after that.
"But it may have been partly psychological, too. Because if I had to make a quick throw, if it was a quick play, boy, it would be on the money. Give me time and who knows where it would be going."
So in the fateful summer of 1973, how did he make the transition from a scatter-armed third baseman to a budding superstar playing first base?
That depends on who you ask. Garvey says (Walter) Alston simply decided to move him to first. Garvey's ex-wife, Cyndy, has said that she gave Alston the idea. Bill Buckner, the incumbent first baseman, says the suggestion to Alston came from him.
Bobby Valentine has yet another interpretation. He says fate intervened on Garvey's behalf.
"In 1973 Bill Buckner was playing first base for the Dodgers. That was rightfully so, because Buckner batted .300 wherever he went.
"Garvey was on the bench, because they finally decided he couldn't play third base. Then in June of '73 the trade deadline was approaching and the Dodgers were getting ready to trade Garvey. But Von Joshua, the left fielder, got injured. Manny Mota, the fourth outfielder, pulled a hamstring.
"So the next logical candidate was Garvey, because he had played some left field (10 games in the outfield in 1973, according to Baseball-Reference.com). But instead of putting Garvey in the outfield, Alston moved Buckner to left and put Garvey at first."
In '74, Garvey had 200 hits (including 21 homers) in 156 games. That was enough to win him the NL Most Valuable Player award, even though in reality he wasn't the most valuable player on the team. His OPS+ of 130 and EQA of .297 were both surpassed by someone who was also a more valuable defender, center fielder Wynn.
As far as Wins Above Replacement Player, a Baseball Prospectus statistic that measures "the number of wins this player contributed, above what a replacement level hitter, fielder, and pitcher would have done," Garvey was sixth on the Dodgers, behind Wynn, Ron Cey, Mike Marshall, Andy Messersmith and Davey Lopes. I point this out not to diminish anyone's fond memories of Garvey, but rather to underscore what the others contributed.
At any rate, the Dodgers found themselves in 1974 with a 25-year-old first baseman who was a genuine asset with the bat. (James Loney, however, has better statistics at a comparable age.)
Second base: Lopes (5/3/45) was a late bloomer. He made his major-league debut in 1972 at age 27, but became the full-time starter at second base the following season (.273 EQA, 36 stolen bases in 52 attempts). In many ways, Lopes would never stop improving despite the late start. He hit a career-high 28 homers at age 34, and remarkably at age 40, he stole 47 out of 51 bases.
In 1974, Lopes was only a second-year regular, but he was the second-oldest man in the regular lineup behind Wynn. Lopes posted an EQA of .288, stealing 59 bases in 77 tries. His on-base percentage was .350, and he hit 10 home runs.
Shortstop: Though only 25 himself when the '74 season began, Bill Russell (10/21/48) had been in the majors since 1969, playing no fewer than 81 games. In 1972, he became the first-string shortstop and had a .269 EQA, though he slumped to .242 in 1973. But in those days, batting averages of .272 and .265 surely seemed adequate. In fact, Russell got selected to the 1973 midseason All-Star team for the NL and even received a 10th-place vote for MVP.
Sure enough, Russell kept in his range with a .269 batting average in '74, and played in more games than even Garvey, while actually boosting his EQA to .262 (the highest it would be until 1982).
Third base: Cey (2/15/48) had 47 plate appearances combined in 1971-72 before playing in 152 games in 1973 (.275 EQA) and pushing Garvey to first base.
Cey had 15 homers and 80 RBI in 1973, then improved to 18 and 97 as a 26-year-old in '74. He really didn't explode as an offensive player until 1975, when he raised his EQA to .308.
Left field: Buckner (12/14/49) was 19 when he made his major-league debut in 1969. He started playing semi-regularly in 1971 and 1972, mostly in the outfield, before beginning 1973 as the regular first baseman.
But he slumped badly that year, falling from a .292 EQA in 1972 to .248 - in more conventional terms, from a .319 batting average to the aforementioned .275. When Garvey moved to first base that June, Buckner began fighting Mota for playing time in left. (Mota, who started 71 games in left in 1973, batted .314 in '73.)
Nevertheless, the Dodgers kept their faith in Buckner, and at age 24, he batted .314 (.287 EQA) while playing 137 games in left field, starting 128.
In two seasons with the Dodgers, Andre Ethier (4/10/82) has had EQAs of .282 and .267.
Center field: The 3-Dog, Davis, batted .285 with 16 homers, 17 steals, 29 doubles and nine triples in 1973, usually batting third in the order. And still, the Dodgers traded him.
Not only that, it was the only move outside the organization the Dodgers made to improve their lineup heading into the 1974 season - and yet, the 2008 team will have to be thrilled if it does as well with Andrew Jones. Acquired in a trade for 34-year-old Osteen (3.31 ERA/105 ERA+) and minor leaguer Dave Culpepper (who never made the bigs), Wynn (3/12/42) whacked 32 home runs, posting a .320 EQA.
The Toy Cannon was fifth in the NL with a 151 OPS+, trailing only Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt and Reggie Smith. Wynn finished fifth in the MVP voting that year.
Right field: At age 27, Willie Crawford (9/7/46) had already worn a Dodger uniform in 10 different seasons. The Fremont High grad got his first at-bat nine days after his 18th birthday, in September 1964.
For someone who had been on the roster that long, it's almost surprising to think that the Dodgers didn't tire of him sooner. He didn't play more than 130 games until 1973, when he had a splendid .312 EQA in 145 games, starting 118 in right field.
Crawford had a similar if slightly less effective season in 1974. He had the same batting average both years - .295 - but his EQA dropped to a still-useful .298.
Starting pitchers: Don Sutton (4/2/45), who made 40 starts, had been with the team since 1966. It was a disappointing year for Sutton, whose ERA went from 2.42 (144 ERA+) in 1973 to 3.23 (106).
Sutton was eclipsed that year by two pitchers - one acquired after the 1971 season and one after the '72 campaign - each posting 2.59 ERAs (132 ERA+) in '74.
Messersmith (8/6/45) came from the California Angels with Ken McMullen in time for the 1973 season in a trade for Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, Mike Strahler, Billy Grabarkewitz and Valentine. Hitting his prime just at the right time for Los Angeles, Messersmith threw 249 2/3 innings in 1973 and 292 1/3 in '74.
A year before the Messersmith trade, John (5/22/43) came from the Chicago White Sox with Steve Huntz (who never played with Los Angeles) for Dick Allen, who had one and only one season with the Dodgers - a powerful one (151 OPS+ at age 29). A steady pitcher in '72 and '73, John pitched his final game for the Dodgers in '74 on July 17, before undergoing an operation you may have heard about.
Picking up the ball for John was Geoff Zahn (12/19/45). Zahn, like Lopes, was a better-late-than-never player. He had debuted in September 1973 shortly before his 28th birthday. In 1974, he joined the team in the bullpen in May. As a starting pitcher, from July on, he averaged 6 1/3 innings per start with a 1.85 ERA. You can't say much was expected of him, but boy, did he deliver.
Beginning the season in the rotation ahead of Zahn was Doug Rau (12/15/48). Rau entered 1974 with six career starts and 96 1/3 career innings, but he made 35 starts in '74, ERAing 3.72 (92 ERA+).
Finally, the Dodgers used Downing (6/28/41) for 16 starts. Downing won 20 games with a 2.68 ERA in 1971 for Los Angeles, but he threw only 98 1/3 innings for the team in 1974 (3.66 ERA/93 ERA+) Still, you could have done a lot worse at the back of your rotation than the young Rau and the older Downing.
Bullpen: If Wynn was the X factor for the 1974 Dodgers, Marshall (1/15/43) was the Y and Z. Acquired the previous December for longtime favorite Davis (one day before the Wynn trade), Marshall had a season for the ages, pitching 208 1/3 innings in relief with a 2.42 ERA. He won the NL Cy Young and finished third in the MVP voting.
Homegrown Charlie Hough (1/5/48) and Jim Brewer (11/17/37), who started his career with the Cubs but had been a Dodger since 1964, backed up Marshall in the bullpen. That year, of the 1,465 innings thrown by the Dodgers, nine pitchers combined for 1,441 of them. What a difference a few decades make.
* * *
I suppose it's worth reflecting that all that work generated no World Series titles until 1981. That's the way it goes, sometimes. But it's hard to imagine the Dodgers doing much better in building a team than they did during this period. The Dodgers don't have to win a World Series in 2008 to prove that an emphasis on talent, whatever the age, is the right path.
Torre: 'Winning Creates Chemistry'
Dodger manager Joe Torre offers a favorable take on the longstanding which-comes-first debate in this ESPN Radio interview (Thanks to Dodger Thoughts commenter Silverwidow for the link.).
However, Torre also distinguishes between chemistry and respect.
"I always like to believe that players want to win," Torre said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm not a believer that chemistry creates winning. I think winning creates chemistry. You don't have to necessarily get along, you don't have to go out to dinner all the time together, but I think the fact that you respect each other and respect what you need to do out there is very important. ... I know the Dodgers, we almost drew about 4 million people last year, and we do attract a great deal of attention, but to me, the support has to come from within the clubhouse, and I think that's probably where things are going to start."
Also, Torre responded to a question about what the Dodgers' greatest need is.
"I don't know. I know we have a great deal of talent. Everybody you talk to somebody in baseball, they're interested in a different player from my team. ... We've had inquiries about a number of different players, even players that haven't seen the light of day in the big leagues yet. So that's pretty impressive, and that's why I'm very curious and anxious to get to Spring Training."
And Speaking of 2003 ...
Hideo Nomo told the world that he has signed a minor-league contract with the Kansas City Royals.
"I want to hang in there no matter what, hoping that I won't get injured," the 39-year-old veteran said on his home page.
I can think of easier ways to not get injured, but maybe something got lost in the translation.
Pac-10 Men's Hoops Opening Day (Wilson Valdez on Sale)
It should be a fierce year of basketball in the Pacific 10 Conference. It should be, anyway.
Kicking off the conference schedule tonight:
UCLA at Stanford
Undefeated Washington State seems destined to start the season tied for fifth place.
Also, I am willing to entertain non-partisan comments and updates on the Iowa caucusi today. Too much is being made of them, but on the other hand, we can't really talk about Wilson Valdez being sold to a Korean team all day (as reported in the Times), can we?
On the other other hand, there's nothing like a Jose Lima update to heat up the winter months. (Imagine: Valdez, Lima, Jae Seo and Hee Seop Choi, all on the same squad!)
Five years ago, I kicked off my return to Dodger Thoughts (after the birth of my daughter sidelined me) with a look at the projected Dodger lineup. Take a trip down memory lane:
1. L Dave Roberts, CF .718 OPSA few days later, I looked at the starting rotation:
MEDIC!You can see how things ended up here. Joe Thurston did not get 98 hits, but the pitching was sure a pleasant surprise, wasn't it?
Okay, I am not opening up the floor on New Year's Day for a Juan Pierre discussion. But how did I miss the fact up to now that he has a no-trade clause, as Ken Gurnick mentions at MLB.com?
Without anyone debating the merits of Pierre on this fine day, who wants to tell me just how oblivious I have been? (Or if Gurnick possibly made a New Year's mistake?)
Update: The Dodgers gave me confirmation that Pierre does not have a no-trade clause. Mystery solved.
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