Monday, August 30, 2010

Dodgers Should Have Kept and Used Manny


By Ross Newhan

      If you are looking for me to say I was wrong. If you are looking for me to say good riddance, Manny, I'm not going to do it.

      A few days ago I wrote that the Dodgers, still with a wild card shot, should keep Manny Ramirez through the end of September and keep him in the lineup.

     Well, several days after he was eligible to return to the lineup, Joe Torre finally put him in as a pinch hitter Sunday and he gets thrown out after one pitch for arguing the strike call.

     Stupid? Certainly.

     His way of saying to the Dodgers that he wanted out, that he should have been playing and that he needed to get to an American League team so he could prove over the final month that he can be a designated hitter and return to the AL with a major contract for next year? Is he really that smart and devious?

     I still say the Dodgers should have put him back in the lineup and kept him there. He is a .311 hitter with a .405 on-base percentage, a .510 slugging percentage and a .915 OPS.

    Is Torre's lineup loaded with hitters of that caliber? Reed Johnson? Scott Podsednik?

    Give me a break.

    This was Frank McCourt's way of saving about $4 million as his divorce trial opens. The entire 2010 season has been about saving money wherever and whenever he can.

    The 2010 season was about the McCourt's splitting and spitting in the face of Dodger fans.

    And still, heading into the final month, this was a team with a post-season opportunity and potentially their best hitter sitting on the bench and losing what patience he had left.

    Yes, Manny had long since thrown away the opportunity to maintain a love affair with Los Angeles heading towards retirement. He wasn't the same hitter on the field or the same clubhouse personality off it.

    He had been suspended for employing a performance enhancing substance and his body was breaking down. Still, there were those numbers and the potential in his bat and the Dodgers had one more month to close a 5 1/2 game spread separating them from the wild card lead.

    Who do you really want in left field? Manny Ramirerz or Scott Podsenik?

    For one last month I'd take my chances with Ramirez.

    Of course, I don't need $4 million. Can't miss what you've never had.

    * * *

    A few more words on Manny. Maybe he was too demonstrative (his description) and said the wrong thing to umpire Gary Cederstrom. There isn't much leeway on ball and strike calls.

    These days there isn't much leeway on any calls.

    The umpires are blowing so many and seemingly itching to provoke and sustain arguments that it has become an embarrassment to the industry.

    I think Bud Selig is too intelligent not to recognize it as such.

   Getting it right during critical games is more important than the time that would be lost checking the replay.

   More replay is needed, and the umpires need a good scolding in regard to their attitude, although I hate to generalize. Not all of them carry the same attitudinal chip.                        

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dodgers Should Keep Manny


            By Ross Newhan             

     --I don't see the sense in trading Manny Ramirez to the Chicago White Sox or anyone else before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline. I'm not dismissing the savings of $4 million, which might, at least, pay one of the lawyers in the McCourt's divorce case, and I'm not dismissing the possibility of the Dodgers acquiring a legitimate prospect or two in a deal. It's just that the Dodgers entered a weekend series with Colorado only five games back in the wild card race and they are a stronger team with Ramirez in the lineup, even if he doesn't hit home runs anymore. He makes Andre Eithier and Matt Kemp better, and a five game deficit can be wiped out in a week. Manny and the Dodgers will have their own divorce when the season ends, and isn't tolerating him for another month worth the shot at a post-season berth?

   --The general consensus is that no one is to blame for Stephen Strasburg's need for Tommy John surgery. The Nationals handled him well, and the only question I have heard baseball executives and scouts raise involves the decision to let him throw so many changeups. The Strasburg changeup isn't the normal low 80s or high 70s changeup. It's the difference between his 99/100 mph fastball and 92 mph changeup. which is most pitcher's fastball. It takes a grip that can put strain on the arm, and as one executive said, "He doesn't need it. He has three other pitches with which to get hitters out, and all are far above average." It's a shame. Strasburg's development enlivened the industry, but dozens of pitchers have come back from Tommy John, including nine in this year's All-Star game alone, and some more effective than they were before the surgery.

   --Angel insiders remain irritated that Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee rejected a deal to Anaheim in July but accepted a deal to Atlanta in August. One big factor, of course, is that the Braves lead their division while the Angels were falling out of the race in July, unable to sustain a streak. Two other bigger factors: Lee did not want to move his family in mid-summer and he still had hopes that the Cubs could become a post-season threat in the National League Central. However, between July 24 and Aug. 18, when he accepted the trade to Atlana, the Cubs went 5-18, and that was enough to convice Lee they were dead (and he had a chance to join a team leading its division).

  --Lou Piniella deserved to go out on a bigger high than the low of another disspirited Cubs season that was another lesson in wasted free agent money. However, Piniella can take pride in his long service as one of the best professional hitters I ever saw, his tolerance (as player and manager) of George Steinbrenner, his World Series title with Cincinnati and the role he played as manager of the Mariners in helping save baseball in the Pacific Northwest, getting both Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. off to mature starts as young superstars. 

   --The revelation by of the accurate financial records of an array of major league teams was also a revelation to many owners, who were stunned to learn that the total amount of revenue being shared by the richer clubs (and going into the pockets of their poorer brethren rather than being spent on players and club improvement) is close to $450 million. Major League Baseball stopped circulating the financial data of each of the 30 clubs among all 30 several years ago. The revenue sharing total and the apparent fact that some clubs weren't using it for the purpose it was designed is expected to create a major internal debate during the next labor negotiations.              

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Clemens, and the Act of Denial

      By Ross Newhan

      I am thinking back to 1982, late in the season, the Angels headed to a division title, the first post-season for manager Gene Mauch during a career, to that point, in which he had taken undermanned teams in Philadelphia, Montreal and Minnesota much farther than he was ever credited.

     In 45 plus years on the baseball beat, Mauch was definitely the most intense manager I ever dealt with and probably the most intelligent. He seldom used a cliché and almost always paused before answering a question, leaving the reporter to wonder if he was going to get his head bitten off or receive one of Mauch’s thoughtful and insightful answers.

    As the Angels moved closer to clinching the ’82 title, I sat alone with Mauch one afternoon in Texas and asked him whether it was difficult controlling his emotions, what he was thinking about after so many frustrating seasons in those other times and places, to now basically have the post-season within his grasp.

   There was the usual pause, and then this:

   “I don’t see a shingle hanging from your door, so I’m not getting on the couch for you.”

    I wasn’t sure how Mauch knew what I had hanging from my door, but he was right. Not then or now do I have a shingle reading “psychologist” or “psychiatrist”. I have only the opinions and theories born of experience and research, which I offer now in the matter of Roger Clemens, who has been indicted by a federal grand jury of lying to Congress in regard to his 2008 testimony that he had never used a performance enhancing substance.

    As a seven time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens was certain to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Instead, he faces a possible prison sentence, his reputation shattered as he continues to insist he never used steroids or human growth hormone despite an array of evidence and testimony that he did.

    In my tenure on the baseball beat, Clemens and Pete Rose probably stand out as the most competitive of competitors---Clemens a workaholic driven to 354 victories and Rose unyielding as he closed in on Ty Cobb and ultimately surpassed his status as baseball’s all-time hits leader.

    Clemens and Rose simply let nothing stand in their way—an opposing batter of the Mike Piazza stature who was always fortunate to be wearing a helmet when facing Clemens or a catcher like Ray Fosse blocking the plate in an All-Star game and sent flying and reeling by Rose.

    That drive, that obsession, that degree of arrogance, to my thinking, played out off the field as well.

    Admit to Commissioner Bart Giamatti that his investigator, John Dowd, was right and he gambled on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds?

    No way, Rose insisted year after year until realizing that his chances of being removed from baseball’s ineligible list and reaching the Hall of Fame were continuing to fade and he finally admitted that yes, Dowd had it right, and how much better would it have been for him if he had acknowledged that from the start, if he had simply said he had made a mistake in judgment and was sorry?

   That wasn’t Rose, and neither is it Clemens.

   Forget Brian McNamee and all of those DNA and PED pocked syringes that he saved after injecting Clemens while personally training the pitcher? Sure, it was just lidocaine.

  Forget Andy Pettitte testifying that Clemens had admitted to him that he had been injected with HGH? Good buddy Andy must have “misremembered.”

  As for that Congressional committee, Clemens might ask, "who is Henry Waxman, anyway?"

  The Greek gods had a word for it: hubris.

  Hubris, they said, comes about when men think they can act like god.

  And isn’t that the inexcusable aspect?

  Or as Harvey Dorfman, now consultant and sports psychologist to the Scott Boras Corp. and longtime consultant to several teams and players, put it via phone:

  “The missing component is character. I’ve known many driven players who knew right from wrong. I mean, drive doesn’t excuse the absence of moral borders and boundaries or the act of denial when truth is demanded.”

 Perhaps, Clemens will plea bargain his way out of these charges.

 However,that would call for the missing character, the absent act of remorsefulness.

 In the meantime, for all his apologists, for anyone insisting that the felony act of lying to Congress isn’t worth the Department of Justice’s time and money, I would recommend they first get a shingle.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dead Men Walking---for the Most Part

By Ross Newhan

--It has received little media attention aside from Torii Hunter's move from center field to right, but the Angels have three outfielders who have become virtually useless on defense. The Angels, at least, owe Hideki Matsui nothing beyond his $6 million contract this year, but they are obligated for $14.25 million to Bobby Abreau and Juan Rivera through 2011, and actually $15.25 million counting Abreau's 2012 buyout. In addition to what should be a troubling financial aspect to whoever is calling the shots in Anaheim--Mike Scioscia or Tony Reagins--the young player who influenced the move of Hunter to right and Abreau to left, Peter Bourgos, is off to a 5 for 41start at the plate with no guarantee he is nothing more than the second coming of Brandon Wood with more speed and a better glove. The Angels, behind the scenes, are counting heavily on Hunter's friendship with outfielder Carl Crawford to influence the potential Tampa Bay free agent to sign in Anaheim, but Crawford will be widely pursued, and Arte Moreno will be challenged to match the New York Yankees checkbook.

--On Sunday, Albert Pujols extended his own remarkable and record streak of 30 homers at the start of a career. With seven weeks to go in Pujols' 10th season, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, "Of his three things he's most famous for, which are 30 homers, 100 RBIs and (batting) .300, (the home run total) is the least remarkable thing about Albert. He's a line drive hitter who hits 30 home runs. He hits 30 line drives that go out of the park. The most remarkable thing about him is that over 162 games, he hits .300 and drives in over 100 runs--and he does it every year." St. Louis has a $16 million option on Pujols for next year or he would shatter all free agent records. As it is, the Cardinals will be trying to extend the contract before he tests the market.

--The divorce proceedings between would-be Dodger owners Frank and Jamie McCourt have become so bizarre that Amazon is missing a bet by not offering the court filings for internet sale. As Commissioner Bud Selig watches with an incredulous eye from his Milwaukee office, the latest development, as revealed by Bill Shaikin in the L.A. Times, is that the team has been charging itself rent--$14 million this year--on Dodger Stadium property it owns. That amount is far greater than what has been paid by teams with an independent landlord. The situation--and motive--is too complicated to cover in depth here, but by deducting the rental amounts from team revenue, according to court documents, the team has amassed a surplus pool of about $24 million, and that pool has remained untapped even as the Dodgers, undermanned on the field due to the money the McCourts have been spending on lawyers, debt service and a lavish lifestyle, have reduced their opening day player payroll by about $23 million since 2008.

--As popular as it may be among New York Mets fans and other owners, the announcement by the Mets that they will not pay closer Francisco Rodriguez over the remainder or this season and not guarantee the remainder of his guaranteed three year contract has little chance of surviving an arbitrator's ruling on a grievance soon to be filed by the players union. Rodriguez had surgery Tuesday for a torn thumb ligament apparently suffered last week in an altercation with the father of his common law wife. The Mets allege Rodriguez admitted to their trainers that he suffered the season ending injury during the altercation. K-Rod is owed $11.5 million next year and $17.5 million in a 2012 option. The Mets announced that the remainder of his contract will become guaranteed again only if he makes the 25 man season opening roster next spring. There is virtually no precedent for the Mets action, and it seems inconceivable that an arbitrator would rule against the union's grievance.

--As infuriating as it may be to swallow, as much as he has blown the hold he had on the city and his team's fans, Manny Ramirez's long delayed return to the Dodgers lineup is critical if they are to make any kind of division or wild card stretch run. In 186 at bats, Ramirez is batting .317 with a .409 on base percentage, a .516 slugging percentage and a .457 on base percentage with runners in scoring position. The guy can hit--fertility drugs or not--and his intermittent appearances this season may have as much to do with Matt Kemp's statistical falloff as all of the benchings, the analysis (by coaches and media), the defense by agent Dave Stewart suggesting he may be better off with another team and his relationship with  Rhiana. The sour fact is that a healthy and focused Manny being Manny improves the whole lineup and everybody in it.          

Monday, August 9, 2010

Catching Up

       By Ross Newhan

    --The irrepressible Ozzie Guillen may have fiound a better way to say it, but the Chicago White Sox manager was generally correct: Asian players come with their own interpreters or are provided one by their respective club while Hispanic players speak through a coach--if the club has a Hispanic coach--or are forced to learn English through clubhouse banter. One angle in response to Guillen's remarks has not been mentioned. For all of the reporters who have written on this subject, in support or criticism, how many have made the effort to learn Spanish or a second language during baaseball's global growth? I have often said that the biggest mistake I made during 45 years of covering baseball was not becoming more fluent in Spanish. It would have been an enormous asset. Anyone living in Southern California should learn to speak Spanish, whether they are covering baseball or not. In addition, papers can not be blamed for pursuing the hiring of multilingual reporters. The L.A. Times covered all of its bases a few years ago with the hiring of Dylan Hernandez to cover the Dodgers. Dylan is a fine reporter. Plus, he speaks both Spanish and Japanese. A coup, indeed.

   --The Dodgers release of Garret Anderson probably marks the end of a classy and productive career, but the assent of Jay Gibbons an an Anderson replacement is another indiction that baseball has not entirely put the steroids era behind it, nor do the Dodgers obviously care. Gibbons was suspended for the first 15 days of the 2007 season for receiving a shipment of a human growth hormone. He acknowledged his mistake in using HGH, apologized, and I guess we accept that as good enough.The Baltimore Orioles certainly did, setting up Gibbons for life with a three year, $21 million contract for his production during the period he was making his "mistake."

   --The reaction to Alex Rodriguez' 600th home run was appropriately blase. Look, no one hits 600 or more home runs without a lot of talent, and we know Rodriguez has a lot of talent. It's just not clear, in his case or others, what factor his acknowledged use of a performance enhancing substance played, but as I have written before, I will not cast a Hall of Fame vote for any player who has acknowledged use of such a substance, and I regard that as truly a shame. Whether Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and other otherwise qualified candidates ever receive the required number of votes is uncertain, but a Hall without them blackens the era forever--and so be it.

   --Do I carry a personal bias regarding the issue above? Definitely. My son and blogging colleague played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues. Might he have played longer and more often and made more money had he joined the crowd using performance enhancing substances? Probably. However, he chose not to, going about it honestly. He can look himself in the mirror and speak truthfully to his children. What price do you put on that?

   --The Tampa Bay Rays must be one of the strangest teams ever to challenge for a playoff berth. They still lead the American League wild card race by 4 1/2 games but have slipped 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the East with a five game losing streak as they opened a Monday night series in Detroit. On Sunday, as Brandon Morrow of Toronto threw the first complete game of his career and struck out 17 Rays, they came within one out and one single of becoming the first team in history to suffer three nine inning no hitters in the same season. As it was, they extended their considerable hold on the AL lead in the dubious category of strike outs while ranking first in the league in walks, third in runs and sixth in on base percetange. As manager Joe Maddon put it: "I don't think there's any doubt but that we are very schizophrenic offensively."

  --Since this is a year dominated by pitching, as reported previously and often, here is my Top Ten at this juncture: 1--Adam Wainwright, St. Louis; 2--Cliff Lee, Texas; 3--Jerald Weaver, Los Angeles; 4--Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado; 5--Roy Halladay, Philadelphia; 6--Matt Latos, San Diego; 7--Felix Hernandez, Seattle; 8--Josh Johnson, Florida; 9--Tim Hudson, Atlanta; 10--Johan Santana, Mets. And two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum? Another fine year for the offensively strapped Giants star, but he will have a difficult time repeating and even cracking a combined Top Ten.            


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Deadline Data---or, Death by Divorce

    By Ross Newhan

  So, after Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Roy Oswalt and a couple other big boys had left the room, Dodger general manager Ned Colletti found enough cash amid the lawyer bills to acquire Ted Lilly from the Chicago Cubs, and I have two words in reaction: Randy Wolf.

  Lilly and Wolf are the same left handed pitchers whose careers span the same years with virtually the same records--Lilly is 106-92 and Wolf is 108-94--and if the Dodgers had re-signed the arbitration eligible Wolf going into the season, Manager Joe Torre wouldn't have had to call on Charlie Haeger, Carlos Monasterios and John Ely, among others, as often as he has.

   Of course, that arbitration factor hovered over Colletti like the black cloud of the Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce proceedings, and it was certainly a factor as the Milwaukee Brewers found the medical reports to be good reading and signed Wolf to a whopping three year, $29.75 million contract.

   Not surprisingly, perhaps, Wolf has battled another season of injuries and is 7-9 with a 5.07 earned-run average. Would it have been the same in L.A.? Who knows? The one certainty is the Dodgers have needed another veteran arm from the start, and, with the deadline clock ticking, the Cubs were willing to kick in $2.5 million to off-set the roughly $6 million that Lilly is owed the rest of the way, and now the Dodgers have a Wolf clone who arrives with a 3-8 record but a very good ERA of 3.69.

   As Frank and Jamie keep going through their rolodexes to try and find another friend willing to make a loan of, say, a few hundred thousand, and as Commissioner Bud Selig watches scornfully from Milwaukee, give Colletti credit.

   If it isn't already too late, post-season speaking, Lilly should help.

   So should the acquisitions of 1) aggressive and versatile base stealers Scott Podsednik and Ryan Theriot to help plug the gap of the now-you-see-him, now-you-don't Manny Ramirez (among other gaps), and 2) Octavio Dotel, who seems to start just about every season as somebody's closer (it was Pittsburgh this year) before losing his job.

  Cynicism aside, the beleagured Colletti (even the Pirates had to kick in money on the Dotel deal) deserves a ray of sunlight under that black cloud.

                                                              * * *  


    Can you imagine what the Texas Rangers might have accomplished the last few weeks if the creditors weren't howling and someone (anyone) knew who was going to end up as the new owner?

    I mean, a court conducted auction is scheduled Wednesday and that might not even decide it.

    Amid the uncertainty, would-be co-owner Nolan Ryan continues to provide an imposing presence as the club president (and associate pitching coach), and young general manager Jon Daniels routs his older rivals in the Executive of the Year race.

    The Rangers nabbed Lee, the market's best pitcher, while other general managers were only thinking about making their first calls, and then added a series of important ancillary pieces: catcher Bengie Molina, first baseman Jorge Cantu and shortstop Christian Guzman to replace injured Ian Kinsler at second base.

    The race in the AL West? Maybe the Angels can start a new streak next year.

                                                            * * *

    While the Boston Red Sox were forced to settle for the addition of catcher Jason Saltalamacchia, the New York Yankees were conducting the George Steinbrenner Memorial Raid on the Market.

     Without giving up a significant prospect, the Yankees merely added Lance Berkman to give Mark Texeira some left handed assistance in destroying the shallow right field fence at new Yankee Stadium, acquired veteran Austin Kearns for the bench and nabbed a potential set-up sleeper in Kerry Wood.

      If Wood stays healthy he still has the ability to turn the Yankees biggest weakness (maybe they edited the Joba rules too soon)  into a significant strength.

                                                         * * *


      All that talk about still playing for this year and catching Texas was probably just that---talk. The Angels waited far too long in trying to fill the first and third base power gaps, then were stiffed by Derrek Lee before acquiring the power-less Alberto Callapso to play third base and serve as a backup next year.

     Dan Haren? A terrific addition for the next two years and he only costs Arte Moreno about $32 million.

    Then again, as a buddy, Tim Wheaton, points out, Arte doesn't own the Angels, the Red Sox do.

     Boston usually waits until October to prove it, but this season they were 7-0 vs. Anaheim, and neither team is likely to see October.

                                                          * * *


        Oh, wouldn't San Francisco have loved Cory Hart--or Adam Dunn or Jose Bautista or any proven hitter, but they settled for two decent bullpen arms in Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, and for the Giants it remains strictly an arms race.

                                                      * * *  


          The July deadline was expected to find the San Diego Padres out of the race and trading their two most valuable pawns, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell. Both are free agent eligible, but the pitching dominating Padres surprising performance in leading the NL West has prompted (forced?) new owner Jeff Moorad to retain both and enhance 1) a $38 million payroll (29th among 30 teams) and 2) a generally powerless offense by acquiring Ryan Ludwick from St. Louis and Miguel Tejada from Baltimore.

         The acquisitions don't turn the Padres lineup into a Murderer's Row all of a sudden.

         The key question down the stretch: Can Matt Latos (10-1 in his last 14 starts) and the core of their young rotation exceed previous career highs for innings pitched.      

                                              * * *


        It is a rare occurrence no matter how many times GMs use the cliche about a trade helping both teams, but the Minnesota/Washington trade probably did just that.

       The Twins acquired a proven closer in Matt Capps, returning Jon Rauch to a more comfortable set up role, and the Nationals, with Drew Storen ready to replace Capps, acquired one of baseball's top catching prospects in Wilson Ramos.

       The Twins remain competitive almost every year because of their farm system, hating to give up prospects of the Ramos stature, but with Joe Mauer they won't need another starting catcher until they need another new ballpark.

                                                  * * *


         The Houston Astros had reached the point where they weren't going anywhere with veterans Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, and both veterans had reached the point where they were aching for a chance to win, and now they have it--Oswalt with Philadelphia and Berkman with the Yankees.

         The Astros are generally conservative with their prospects, but they will ask the touted Brett Wallace to fill Berkman's first base role immediately. Wallace has acknowledged power, but the fact that he has been traded more than once during his minor league career raises some questions. The prospect they won't rush is shortstop Jonathan Villar, acquired in the Oswalt deal. Scouts believe Villar has Gold Glove defensive skills and leadoff type speed, but he is two to three years away--unless the Astros' conservatism is truly no longer as deep as that of one of their top fans---George H. W. Bush.