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Saturday, October 4, 2014

TRUST AND NO TRUST






     By ROSS NEWHAN

    That was largely the issue when Don Mattingly went to the mound to check on Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning of Game 1 Friday--90 plus pitches in, five hits by the last six St. Louis batters and 90 plus degrees with adrenelin even higer. Total trust in Kershaw insisting he is not fatigued despite the evidence and no trust in the bullpen, no way to get to Kenley Jansen. When Mattingly is finally forced to make the move after the Matt Carpenter three run double, former infielder Pedro Baez comes out of the beleaguered bullpen and gives up a three run homer to Matt Holliday. For all of their world record payroll the Dodgers are attempting to negotiate the post season with little relief---from their bullpen, let alone the heat.

BY THE WAY

   So while baseball's premier pitcher goes down this also has to be asked: Has baseball's premier player ever looked worse in two consecutive games. Mike Trout is not only failing to deliver (among several other Angels), he is giving the impression that he doesn't even want to be there--long walks out of the batter's box after each pitch and poor hacks on just about everything KC is throwing him. Time, perhaps, for Trout to consider swinging at the first pitch instead of starting most ABs 0 and 1.    

Sunday, September 28, 2014




     By Ross Newhan
     Clayton Kershaw is blowing through history, knocking off one legend after another and erasing any lingering perception that a pitcher shouldn't win the MVP as well as Cy Young Award. He wins both in the NL. The AL: Mike Trout, MVP; Corey Kluber, Cy Young.
      More:
      ROOKIE: Billy Hamilton, NL; Jose Abreau, AL. MANAGER: Don Mattingly, NL; Buck Showalter, AL. BEST FREE AGENT ACQUISTION: Nelson Cruz, Baltimore. LASTING DEREK JETER MEMORY: Always in right spot at right time, particularly in October. BUILD YOUR OWN STADIUM: I don't doubt Arte Moreno when he tells Bill Shaikin that he can afford it, but then why did he so strongly enforce the luxury tax payroll line instead of adding a quality free agent pitcher during off season, a potential killer now in the question mark Angel playoff rotation. WORLD SERIES: Dodgers over Detroit in six.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bud/Jerry Split? It May Portend Labor Battle






                By Ross Newhan

                The split is akin to Ben leaving Jerry to start his own ice cream company.

                 In this case it's Jerry dumping Bud, as in Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, and Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball.

                 These longtime friends and mutual supporters are now operating on different sides of the street, and at stake is the selection of the next commissioner (Selig is retiring in January) and, perhaps, 21 years of labor peace.

                 A Reinsdorf organized coalition, including Angel owner Arte Moreno, is attempting to derail the election of longtime Selig advisor and deputy Rob Manfred,  baseball's chief operating officer and labor leader. Selig announced his decision to step down last September and vowed to stay out of the selection process but little has taken place during his tenure without his voice and participation and there is no doubt that Manfred is his choice as successor, no doubt he is dismayed by Reinsdorf's opposition.

                 The scenario, which I hinted at on Twitter and Facbook a few weeks ago without having the full details that were reported in depth by the New York Times on Thursday, was further confirmed to me by a high placed National League executive describing Selig as being "bewildered and betrayed" by Reinsdorf's opposition "given how close they have been over the years." In addition, the executive said, "it is impossible to predict how all of this plays out."

                The election of Selig's successor was expected to be held in the fall, but Selig, attempting to thwart Reinsdorf's bid to expand the Manfred opposition, has called for a vote at next week's owners meeting in Baltimore. Manfred would require 23 of the 30 votes, and Reinsdorf may already have enough support to create chaos in the process, the NL executive said, adding that some owners, no matter what they feel about Manfred, are concerned that Selig is now attempting to steamroll his election.

                The alternatives:

               Tim Brosnan, baseball's business leader, has been a candidate from the start, and recently emerging from Reinsdorf's closed door lobbying is Tom Werner, the noted TV producer, member of the Boston Red Sox ownership group and  former owner of the San Diego Padres.

             Werner's 1990s tenure at the helm of  the Padres was far from a success, ending in a fire sale of players, and it is unclear how the majority of owners view his overall baseball acumen and stature.

            Why have Reinsdorf, Moreno and others jumped ship on Selig/Mansfred?

            That, too, is hazy, but multiple sources have told me that despite two decades of labor peace and the industry's multi billion dollar revenue growth the long dormant disparities among the internal interests and revenue streams of 30 owners are festering again, the tremors reminiscent of those succession of damaging labor battles in the '80s and '90, clearly manifesting for some owners in the belief that Manfred has not been tough enough on the union in recent negotiations and may lack the business skills to maintain and expand the game's growth.

           Ultimately, are owners prepared to scrape the consensus building and revenue sharing of Selig's tenure in a 2016 fight with the union to reshape the economics, awakening a dormant and bitter relationship? The union, you can bet on, has heard the drumbeat---sounded more loudly by the opposition to Manfred.      
               

                       

                 

                                                              

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't Blame Wainwright







      By Ross Newhan

      I'll join the chorus:

     Adam Wainwright did nothing wrong.

    He threw a fastball to Derek Jeter, participating in the celebration of a moment after taking his glove off and putting it on the mound with the baseball, clapping for Jeter as he led off the All-Star, All-Jeter game.

    The fastball that Wainwright then threw was still 90 plus and Jeter still had to hit it.

    The problem was, is, that the Commissioner has turned this annual exhibition--in this case celebration of a wonderful player in his final year--into something that counts, and we have seen repeatedly how home field advantage in the World Series DOES count.

     The bottom line: This was a fun game inside a fine tribute, but the All-Star game should count for nothing but league pride, if that still existis in an era in which league boundaries have been diluted by those nightly interleague games and players switching leagues with the drop of a dollar.

 . The Commissioner overreacted to the 2002 tie, and there was Wainwright, paying his respects by, perhaps, taking a little something off his fastball and trying to keep it semi-straight, while forgetting that this exhibition isn't just an exhibition any more.

    Who can blame him--in that emotional moment-- if confused as to what it is or should be?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A's, Angels Stir Up AL West: Baseball's Best?





              By Ross Newhan

              With the two best records in the American League entering play Saturday, and a third West Division team, Seattle, tied for the fourth best, both Oakland and the Angels have been doing more than watching fireworks on the holiday weekend.

              The A's--operating from what General Manager Billy Beane has always maintained is a narrow financial window (''there are no five year plans in Oakland," he is fond of saying)--produced their own fireworks with the blockbuster trade with the Chicago Cubs, landing two starting pitchers for top prospects.

              The Angels snuck in at a less explosive level, sending two lower level prospects to Arizona for a veteran left handed reliever, Joe Thatcher, in an ongoing attempt (following the acquisition of Jason Grilli and departure of Ernesto Frieri) to stabilize their bullpen.

              The A's transaction, in particular, set the stage for what might be a wild month ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and underscored Beane's belief that his team has to go for it when the opportunity is there. The A's have reached the playoffs seven times in his 16 years as GM but never the World Series, and the trade with Chicago represents another defining juncture for two teams at distinctly different places on the competitive road.

              Already boasting the AL's best rotation ERA, the A's acquired starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who boast the 10th and 15th ranked ERAs in the National League and who significantly improve Oakland's depth. Hammel can become a free agent at the end of the current season while Samardzija can leave at the end of the 2015 season, but this is now and that is then, and there was concern in Oakland about the club's ability to hold off the Angels with a rotation led by right hander Sonny Gray, in his first full major league season, and lefty Scott Kazmir, who hasn't pitched more than 158 innings in a season since 2007.

             The center piece of the trade from the Cubs standpoint was 20 year old shortstop Addison Russell, who was the A's top draft pick two years ago and was perceived to be Oakland's potential shortstop as soon as next year if Jed Lowrie leaves as a free agent at the end of the current year. Again, however, that is then and this is now, and prospects are prospects until they are something more. Beane has never backed away from trading prospects, having now traded five of his last nine top picks, including outfielder Billy McKinney, who was the 24th overall selection in the 2013 draft and who was sent to the Cubs with the very highly touted Russell.

            How the latter fits into the Cubs long range shortstop picture isn't clear considering incumbent Starlin Castro, 24, is signed for five years and $44 million after this season, and Javier Baez, another highly regarded prospect at 21, is in the wings. Nevertheless, as a scout for an American League team told me in regard to Russell, "if this kid doesn't become a big league star I don't know my business."

            The Angels, by contrast, added an important bullpen piece in southpaw Thatcher, who had a 2.63 ERA for Arizona in 37 appearances, primarily at the expense of outfielder Zach Borenstein, who was their 2013 Minor League Player of the Year but only their ninth rated prospect according to Baseball America.

            It isn't clear if General Manager Jerry DiPoto is done working on the bullpen, or done improving his pitching overall, but this much does seem clear:

            Between the A's, Angels and swiftly improving Mariners, the West has become the AL's strongest division--maybe MLB's strongest--and it's conceivable that all of those three will have more to say before the trade deadline as they set the stage for a furious second half in which the division title is the obvious prize.

           No wants to face the heat and uncertainty of a one game wild card play-in.

             
                         

                         

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lucroy and Trout First Half MVPs







                     By Ross Newhan

                     Every membership in the BBWAA is accompanied by the notarized promise that the new card holder will write an annual, mid-season awards column.

                     Just kidding, of course, but it does seem to be part of the DNA, and so here is mine:

                                                           MVP

                    American: 1. Angels center fielder Mike Trout. 2/3. Tie between Toronto first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and outfielder Jose Bautista.
                    Comment: Barring injury, neither Miguel Carbrera nor anyone else should deprive Trout of the 2014 MVP. The heart and soul of his contending team continues to reach new heights, on a seemingly nightly basis, achieving metrics no one has ever achieved at 22.

                    National: 1. Milwaukee catcher Jonathon Lucroy. 2. Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutcheon. 3. Miami right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
                    Comment: It would be easy enough to reward Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for his eye-popping, Coors Field enhanced stats (check his splits), but the Rockies are heading south again while Lucroy has provided baseball's best first half team with a two way foundation--behind the plate and in the batters box (.911 OPS and .331 batting average). Lucroy and catchers historically have a tendency to wear down in the second half, which is why only three (Joe Mauer, Ernie Lombardi and Bubbles Hargrave) have ever won a batting title, but Lucroy doesn't have to catch Tulowitzki (.351) to be MVP.

                                                      CY YOUNG

                   American: 1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle. 2. Masahiro Tanaka, New York. 3. David Price, Tampa Bay.
                   Comment: Hernandez and Tanaka share the ERA lead, but King Felix leads in just about every other category. It's a race within a race, and all those teams which failed to enter the Tanaka bidding, including the luxury tax obsessed Angels, or dismissed him as only a middle of the rotation possibility, including the Dodgers, should be shamefully reevaluating.

                   National: 1. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati. 2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. 3. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis.
                   Comment: I wasn't sleeping during Kershaw's fabulous June. Just saying he missed a sizeable chunk of the first half, doesn't have enough innings yet to qualify for the ERA title, and Cueto leads in just about every NL pitching category. Let's see how it plays out. The lithe Cueto has pitched 200 innings only once while Kershaw keeps building steam.

                                                 ROOKIES OF THE YEAR

                   American: Tanaka. National: Cincinnati center fielder Billy Hamilton.
                   Comment: The Yankee ace is proving it wasn't all hype, and Hamilton is proving he can do more than run--most importantly filling the Shin-Soo Choo leadoff and OBP role for about $129.5 million less.

                                              MANAGERS OF THE YEAR        
                         
                     American: John Gibbons, Toronto. National: Ron Roenicke, Brewers.
                     Comment: The Blue Jays have a variety of holes, but Gibbons has contained his sometimes volatility in directing his team to an unexpected lead in the weakened AL East. Similarly, no one anticipated that Roenicke's Brewers would have the best, mid-season record in baseball, turning the NL Central into a blue state rather than Cardinal red.

                                               
                                               ALL-STAR STARTERS
                                         (Based on first half performance)

                      American: 1B, Encarnacion, Toronto. 2B, Jose Altuve, Houston. SS, Erick Aybar, Angels. 3B, Josh Donaldson, Oakland. OF, Michael Brantley, Cleveland; Trout, Angels; Bautista, Toronto. DH, Victor Martinez, Detroit. Catcher, Salvador Perez, Kansas City.

                       National: 1B, Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona. 2B, Chase Utley, Philadelphia. SS, Tulowitzki, Colorado. 3B, Todd Frazier, Cincinnati. OF, Justin Upton, Atlanta; McCutchen, Pittsburgh; Stanton, Miami. C, Lucroy, Milwaukee.                  
                                                                       
          
                               
                     
                 

                         

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

That Strange Dodger Vacuum





       By ROSS NEWHAN

       The Dodgers continue to play in this strange vacuum---leading the major leagues in attendance while 70% of Southern California homes fail to get their games on television.

        It's now long past a point where people I talk to about the TV blackout care any more--and if they do it's only from the standpoint of fearing they might be missing Vin Scully's last or next to last season in the booth.

        There has certainly been plenty more to talk about and care about: Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Kings, and now World Cup Soccer at a time when the NHL and NBA seasons are over and the Dodgers should be on Page 1 of the sports sections instead of Page 4 or 5 ignominy.

         I'm not saying the Dodgers have completely disappeared, out of sight and out of mind. In the wake of their 2013 playoff return they sold a club record number of season tickets, and the sale of single game tickets    is still relatively brisk. They have a world record payroll, and the internal friction that was inevitable while attempting to rotate four top dollar, ego oriented outfielders keeps restoring the club to a degree of morning conversation amid TV deprived fans as Don Mattingly talks about the need to pull on the same end of a frayed rope.

          What I AM saying, however, is that the lingering blackout keeps driving people away, and it is impossible to believe that smart guys like Mark Walter, Todd Boehly and Stan Kasten didn't foresee the possibility of this when they created their own channel and sold multi-decade rights to Time-Warner for $8.35 billion. I mean, business is business, and the cable giant was going to try and start recouping that investment as soon as it could, the reported result being the demand that the other carriers would have to pay $5 per subscriber to buy the Dodger channel and that there would be no pay as you watch plan.

            At a time when all subscribers have seen their monthly bills escalate (for a host of channel packages that are never watched), DirectTV and the other large carriers have simply balked at accepting the Time-Warner demand. Thus, only about 30% of a sprawling market is getting Dodger telecasts, and there seems to be no indication of a compromise by Time-Warner and, worse, no ongoing public statements by the club's brass that they are sorry about all of this and offering some sort of plan to get it resolved.

            Also among the missing has been Bud Selig. The Commissioner's power may be limited as far as direct involvement, but he should be continually outfront in support of the fan base in the nation's No. 2 media market, insisting this needs to be resolved and resolved quickly---although the Dodgers and Time-Warner are long past the point of quickly and Selig is long past the point of making a supportive statement.

            So, on a lovely Tuesday morning in the vast Los Angeles market, most fans are likely sad over the death at 54 of Tony Gwynn, worried about the hamstring injury of U.S. striker Jozy Altidore and arguing in the aftermath of the Kings victory parade what the Stanley Cup champions should do about their key free agents.

            The Dodgers? Did anyone see last night's game? Anyone?