SUBSCRIBE TO FOLLOW BY EMAIL

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Needs Another Out of Town Owner?




        By Ross Newhan

        It would be foolish to accept this as gospel, but contracturally and verbally the new year is expected to be the last of Bud Selig's 20 as commissioner.

       His has been a revolutionary tenure, but fans of the Dodgers care only that he contributes to new and stable ownership with the finances to build a winner.

       In the convuluted process that is driving Frank McCourt out as owner, it should be remembered that McCourt will have a say in the selection.

       McCourt, of course, may be only interested in the final price, hoping it will alleviate his debts, satisfy creditors, contribute to the $131 million divorce settlement with Jamie McCourt and leave him with enough to maintain a measure of the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed.

      He has said that the new owner should have community roots, but was that sincere or simply lip service?

     Prospective bidders can begin submitting offers on Jan. 13.

     The latest name to emerge is that of billionaire Steven Cohen--first revealed in the Wall Street Journal and expanded on in Wednesday's editions of the Los Angeles Times. Cohen, 55, is the founder of SAC Capital Advisors, a Connecticut-based investment firm that controls $14 billion in assets. In September, Forbes estimated Cohen's net worth at $8.l3 billion. According to multiple sources who talked to me only on the bases of anonymity Thursday, Cohen has built his hedge fund operation on the basis of total control and, at times, a volcanic temper. Two of his former managers have pleaded guilty to insider trading. and the SEC, according to a lawyer involved in the federal investigation of suponeanaed records, confided that the government continues to look into those record  but that no charges have been filed against Cohen or his company.

    Since league owners have final say in approving bidders, it isn't clear whether that investigation will or would create discomfort among owners if Cohen comes up for a vote. It certainly has not stopped Cohen from looking into the possible purchase of the Dodgers. According to The Times' story he has met with several owners regarding the challenge of owning a sports team, retained Steve Greenberg, the former deputy commissioner and now a sports broker with Allen & Co. in New York and he has been accompanied in his meetings with the owners by noted player agent Arn Tellem, who is based in Los Angeles and could be a potential executive with the Dodgers if Cohen secures the team. Cohen has also retained Populous, a sports architecture firm, to suggest possible changes to Dodger Stadium that would improve comfort and safety.

    In the Times' story, two well known Los Angeles personalities, Eli Broad and David Geffen, who share a love of art with Cohen, both offered their support, and Geffen said of the Connecticut based Cohen that it didn't matter where he lived.

    "What you really need is an owner who has the resources to win, the drive to win and who cares more about winning than he cares about money," Geffen said.

    However, Dodger fans, having experienced the chaos of Rupert Murdoch's phantom ownership and the turmoil under Boston native McCourt, may want no part of another out of town owner and that could also weigh on Selig and the voting owners--and it probably should.

    There will be two Los Angeles bidders with baseball backgrounds--former Dodger owner Peter O'Malley and Dennis Gilbert, the Westside insurance man who is an assistant to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a former player and player agent, and who attends virtually every Dodger game as a season ticket holder.

   Both O'Malley and Gilbert refused comment Thursday, having signed the confidentiality agreement required of potential investors who have received a breakdown of Dodger finances from Blackstone Advisory Partners, the firm handling sale of the club, but the key question is rhetorical anyway. Why go to Connecticut or anywhere else when there are potential and quality owners in the neighborhood?         

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Getting Away With Murder?





        By Ross Newhan

        Barry Bonds did not get away with murder, metaphorically speaking.
   
        It only appears that way because of the seemingly light sentence Bonds has received for giving evasive answers to a federal grand jury eight years ago.

      It's known as obstruction of justice, and under federal guidelines District Court Judge Susan Illston could have sentenced Bonds to 15 months in prison.

        Instead, in a ruling consistent with her other decisions in the long running BALCO drug case, Bonds was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest, two years probation, 250 hours of community service and a $4,000 fine.

       In an effort to avoid a lifetime reputation as a felon, Bonds will appeal, and Illston stayed her sentence Friday until the appeal is heard.

      Putting the lenient sentence aside, no one will ever convince me that Bonds did not use steroids or a form thereof as his body expanded in size as his home runs totals similarly expanded and he became baseball's all-time home runs leader.

     In my mind, he will always carry the reputation of a cheater, felon not withstanding.

    Bonds becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame with next December's ballot. Some voting members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America may feel Bonds was already a Hall of Fame caliber player before the steroids questions arose and will vote for him on that basis. I don't buy it. A career is a career. How do you simply erase the suspicions that accompanied the latter half of his career? In fact, Bonds has admitted using a susbstance known as the cream, claiming he was unaware it was a steroids derivative.

    Bonds was convicted April 13 by a San Francisco jury that heard three weeks of testimony about his suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was found guilty on one of the four counts in the case,the jury agreeing he had obstructed justice by giving evasive answers to a grand jury in 2003 when asked if Greg Anderson, his former personal trainer, had ever injected him

    The jury came within one vote of convicting him on a second count, voting by 11 to 1 that he had committed perjury when he told the same grand jury in 2003 that he was never injected by anyone other than his doctor. Depending on the outcome of his appeal, if community service stands, he should begin by doing the gardening for that one jury member who voted against perjury.

   Of course, that would be after he finishes 30 days of house arrest in his Beverly Hills mansion..

   Illston explained her sentence by saying Bond's obstruction behavior was not as serious as his conviction might suggest, and that the prison guidelines "apply to us when the obstruction are things like threats of force and intimidation of jurors--significant criminal behavior. What was convicted here was of a different nature"

 Prosecutor Matthew Parrella disputed her reasoning and termed the sentence "almost laughable."

 Almost?              

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Missing Prince



       By Ross Newhan

       Now that the Angels have signed Albert Pujols to a 10 year, 254 million contract and almost all of the principal free agents have been accounted for, the question is, "has a baseball Prince been left to go a-begging?"

       Renowned agent Scott Boras insists not.

       "The Prince Fielder slugger train has a lot of passengers," Boras said by telephone Thursday. "A lot of teams are involved."

       Boras has been known to inflate the interest in his clients, but there have been few rumors regarding the Milwaukee first baseman. If there are a lot of passengers on the Fielder train, they may be traveling incognito.

      Seattle, still? Maybe Washington, Miami, the Cubs,

     Perhaps, the Brewers could still find a seat on the train, particularly since they may lose their left fielder and National League MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the 2012 season because of a drug suspension.      

    "We're at the point of discussions (because of price and length of contract) where the owners are involved," Boras said. "They can fly into Orange County for a day and fly out without getting much attention."

    With Boras's home and corporation based in Newport, John Wayne Airport is in the Fielder flight pattern. Has the Pujols contract scared off potential bidders?

    Two different things, Boras said, pointing out that Pujols will be 32 in January. Fielder won't be 28 until May.

    Over the last three years, while drawing acclaim as baseball's greatest hitter, Pujols has hit only 10 more homers than Fielder and driven in only eight more runs.

   "Normally," Boras said, "a player with Fielder's slugging credentials would be approaching (a long term contract situation) at a later stage of his career. When I did the Alex Rodriguez contract (with the New York Yankees for 10 years and $275 million in 2007), Alex was 32. You were looking at only so many premium years. Fielder is 27. All of his (potential contract) years are premium years."

   Boras would not say if he was looking to match or exceed the Pujols contract because of Fielder's age advantage.

   "The A-Rod contract (baseball's highest) is about $300 million," Boras said. "I sense the Angels wanted to slide in under that umbrella.

   "I give Arte (Moreno) credit for stepping up as he did with Pujols and the pitcher (C.J. Wilson)."

   At the same time, some in the Boras camp think the smarter move would have been for the Angels to sign the younger (and probably cheaper) Fielder for fewer years, giving them the left-handed power hitter they lack unless Kendrys Morales returns after missing 1 1/2 years with a broken left leg.

   Boras reiterated that the Pujols' contract and the eventual Fielder contract are two different things and that a Fielder deal should be done soon.

   "The interest level has become more defined," he said, and that no owner or general manager has brought up concern to him that the 5-foot-ll, 255 pound Fielder could have a tough time controlling his weight over a long term contract, eventually ballooning like his father, Cecil Fielder, did.

    "Prince understands what he needs to do and has a regimented work schedule," Boras said. "He's 40 pounds lighter than when he was 16."

    Fielder has averaged 39 home runs and 114 RBI over the last three years. Hefty numbers. It will be interesting to find out who emerges from that train, and how heavy the contract is.

                       

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pujols Is Pujols, But Morales is Key




        By Ross Newhan

        Only a manager with a roster including Albert Pujols wouldn't mind holding a cell phone to his ear as he took his daily walk amid a Westlake rainstorm Monday.

        Now that Angel owner Arte Moreno, blessed with the financial foundation of a $3 billion television contract with Fox Sports, has guaranteed $254 million to baseball's greatest hitter of the last 11 years, it is up to Mike Scioscia to contemplate a lineup in which the key is a player who hasn't been in a game since early 2010 and may not be ready for 2012.

       "If it just came down to Albert, the Cardinals would have won every year he was (in St. Louis)," Scioscia said of the task of building a lineup that offers protection behind him and table setters in front of him.

      A dilemma?

     "That's not what I would call it," Scioscia said. "A dilemma is what we went through the last two years when we had to fill nine spots and had three or four guys who weren't swinging well on a daily  basis. When you have Albert Pujols in the middle of the lineup....well, you can choose the words to describe it."

     It may not be until late in spring training before anyone knows how best to describe it and how the pieces fit together.

    The "key piece of the puzzle," said Scioscia, is Kendrys Morales, the switch hitting first baseman who hasn't played since breaking his lower left leg in 2010. Morales is currently hitting off a tee in Arizona and running on a treadmill, but he has still not put full weight on the leg.

   A physically fit  Morales, who hit 34 homers and drove in 108 runs in 2009, would provide left handed protection behind Pujols as the designated hitter in a lineup that otherwise could be all right handed with no certainty behind Pujols.

   "There's two ways to protect a hitter of Albert's stature," Scioscia said, getting wetter every second. "You have enough of a threat behind him that he isn't consistently pitched around or you create a situation that makes it difficult to pitch around him by putting the right two or three players in front of him so that he has a chance to drive them in.

   "In our situation, Kendrys is extremely important and probably the most important thing we'll look at in spring training. If he's healthy, it makes it much easier for us as far as creating a lineup."

   Given Morales' physical uncertainty, many teams might not have tendered him a contract before Monday's deadline. The Angels, however, tendered a contract, maintaining control and illustrating his importance.

   If he is not ready when the Angels open the season, the lineup is a mystery.

   Assuming Pujols hits third (he batted third in 1,383 games with St. Louis compared to 242 batting fourth, according to the Elias Sports Bureau), either Mark Trumbo or Vernon Wells would probably hit behind him. Trumbo hit 29 homers as a rookie and will be moving to third base ("he showed his athleticism in moving to first base and he has a strong enough arm to play third," Scioscia said) while the Angels simply believe Wells, with a proven record, should bounce back from his shockingly disappointing debut with the club last year..

   That leaves Torri Hunter, Chris Ianetta and Peter Bourgeos behind them and Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick possibly at the top of the lineup again despite very poor on-base percentages, a critical stat to the computer gurus in general manager Jerry DiPoto's new front office.

  Aybar has a .319 career on-base percentage while Kendrick is .329.

  All of this will take on a different complexion if Morales can fill the DH role behind Pujols. In the meantime, on a wet Monday, Scioscia was still soaking up the positive vibes created by the acquistion of a three time MVP.              

Friday, December 9, 2011

Send Those Thank You Notes to Fox Sports





       By Ross Newhan

       Talk about exasperation.

       On the most newsworthy day in Angel history I was burdened with a crashed hard drive

       So, here I am, blogging a day late and a dollar short--or is it $331.5 million short, Arte Moreno's stunning guarantee to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and are Angel fans writing thank you notes to Fox Sports for agreeing to a new television deal with the team that is expected to cover 20 years and provide Arte more than $3 billion?

      This new TV deal was first reported in the Los Angeles Times and confirmed by this reporter in conversations with two sources who can not be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the record and some aspects of the TV deal have not been finalized.

     The bottom line is the bottom line.

     Fox has again emerged as baseball's primary underwriter, and money almost always talks.

     Yes, Jered Weaver could have possibly made millions more by eventually testing the market rather than signing an extension with the Angels, and his new rotation colleague, Wilson, could have made more in years and dollars by signing with the Miami Marlins.

    However, both Weaver and Wilson are Southern California products and opted for home.

   How many times did Puajols, whose baseball and community roots were in St, Louis, tell reporters from that city that he wanted to start and finish his career there and couldn't see leaving for $3 million or $4 million more a year?

   The Cardinals offered 10 years and about $210 million to their greatest hitter since Stan Musial, and he left for about $4 million more a year, confirming again that just about any time a player says it is not about the money, it is definitely about the money. And any time an owner complains about a team overpaying for a free agent, as Moreno did when he was outbid for free agent Carl Crawford last winter as the Boston Red Sox gave Crawford $142 milllion for seven years, that same owner will eventually open his own wallet in a manner likely to create head shaking in the industry.

   In this case, having pursued and lost Crawford, Adrian Beltre and Mark Texeira, among others, in the last two off-seasons, and watching the Angels fail to reach the playoffs in the last two years, Moreno was determined to change the club's direction. He cleaned out the front office, brought in Jerry DiPoto as general manager, opted out of his former television deal with Fox Sports to take advantage of a robust TV marketplace, and emerged Wednesday with the premier free agent hitter and pitcher, spending about $150 million more than he did when purchasing the team in 2003.

    In the process, Moreno turned his Angels into the talk of the town, whether it's Los Angeles, Anaheim or any other town in Southern California.

   And does it really matter who buys the Dodgers?

   Margic Johnson?

  Now it's the Showtime Angels.

  They have the best rotation in baseball, with the addition of Wilson also stripping division rival Texas of their ace, and what more needs to be said about Pujols?

  He is the only hitter in baseball history to slug more than 30 homers, drive in more than 100 runs and bat higher than .300 in each of his first 10 years, and he would have made it 11 if he hadn't missed by one percentage point, batting .299 in 2011. He will  be 32 in January, and his statistics in each of those three categories have declined in each of the last three years, a measure of concern, perhaps, but then the Angels, if truthful, aren't really counting on Pujols being Pujols for all 10 years.

  What the Angels would love to count on is Kendrys Morales, who has missed most of the last two years, providing Pujols with left handed protection, but his return remains uncertain. The future of Mark Trumbo, yielding first base to Pujols, is also uncertain after finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. He could go to third base, the outfield or another team, netting a closer such as Oakland's Andrew Bailey, perhaps.

   For now, with the help of that new TV contract, Arte Moreno has landed a knockout blow, underscoring, as my friend Rich Yamaguchi put it,  that the top 1% should definitely pay more in taxes.

  Rich might have have meant it in a different way and not realized that the Angels just might have to do that as their payroll moves closer to baseball's luxury tax neighborhood.          
  

   

   

      

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Showtime Dodgers? Magic May Want to Cool That Aspect



        By Ross Newhan

        First, a couple assumptions:

        --Assuming, in contrast to my most recent blog and the conspiracy theories of some potential investors, that Frank McCourt does intend to sell the Dodgers rather than making a legal run around his agreement with Commissioner Bud Selig to sell by April 30, 2012

     --Assuming that McCourt is sincere with his stated hope to sell to community based ownership that will restore community pride in his currently half-masted flagship franchise.

     There are more than a half dozen potential investors based in Los Angeles and/or with former connections to the Dodgers--from former owner Peter O'Malley to former general manager Fred Claire to former players Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser--and yet here comes Magic Johnson at the head of a small group that seems to have everything in place.

    Money? Principally, there's Mark Walter, chief executive of Guggenheim Partners, a financial services firm that controls more than $125 billion in assets and has an office in Santa Monica.

    Baseball Connections? There's Stan Kasten, former chief executive of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals and a possible successor to Selig, whose current term expires in 2012. The new owner of the Dodgers is not expected to be in place until long after opening day, which could eliminate Kasten as a Selig successor or as president of the Dodgers if asked to succeed Selig, depending on the timing.

   Local Ties? There's Johnson, of course, who brings wide popularity and charisma and proven business acumen, along with a stated committment to make the necessary renovations at Dodger Stadium and occupy a stadium office on a daily basis.

   Perhaps, no one has done more for economy in the inner city or invested more and been more of a living, breathing leader in sparking interest in the fight against HIV, the disease that prompted him to retire from the NBA in 1991. In the type of personal touch that characterizes Johnson's magic, he made a call to McCourt's office to leave a message for the beleaguered owner that he wanted to congratulate him on the club's four playoff appearances during his tenure and his charitable contributions to the community, probably the kindest words McCourt will have heard in several caustic and expensive months.

    In announcing his intention to bid for the Dodgers with usual flair and enthusiasm, Johnson said he would try to build the Dodgers in the Showtime mold of his star-driven Laker teams, recruiting prominent players and paying the price for free agents.

  This is an area that Kasten and others may want to advise Johnson that it would be better to low key. Many of the 29 other owners who will eventually vote on the McCourt successor may not be happy to hear that Magic intends to pay any cost to restore Dodger prominence, driving up salaries in the process.

   It may be remembered that when McCourt was still going through the vetting process he asked Selig if the other owners would react negatively if he consummated a high priced deal with free agent Vladimir Guerrero. Selig told him there would definitely be negative blowback, prompting McCourt to bow out of a deal that was nearly consummated and prompting Angel owner Arte Moreno to jump on Guerrero at the 11th hour.

  Johnson's exuberance will be applauded by the public, but he may want to proceed cautiously with the Showtime angle.

  In the meantime, Blackstone Advisory Partners, overseeing the sale for McCourt, is expected to distribute the "book" detailing the Dodgers financial structure to potential investors this week or next, and a mediator may announce a settlement in the dispute between McCourt and Fox this week, a key step in the overall financial picture since it could either tie the Dodgers to the final two years of their TV contract with Fox (the club will receive $38.8 million in 2013), produce a new contract with Fox or give McCourt the right to negotiate with other media outlets at once--his goal in seeking to take advantage of what has become a very hot marketplace.      

       

             

Friday, December 2, 2011

Does McCourt Really Intend to Sell?



     By Ross Newhan

     The sale of the Dodgers by Frank McCourt--via an agreement with Commissioner Bud Selig and under the auspices of Blackstone Advisory Partners--is proceeding at a deliberate pace--very deliberate.

     According to multiple sources who can not be identified because they are not authorized to speak for any of the involved parties, potential investors, of which there are about 20, have received and been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, and Blackstone is expected to have the "book" documenting the Dodgers financial structure ready for distribution next week or the week after.

    "This has been going on more than a month and no one has seen a book, including the top league officials who, I presume, would have to approve it," one of the sources said. "It makes you wonder."

    What he and others are wondering would provide Oliver Stone with a conspiracy script that would shock Dodger fans. 

    The question he and othes are asking is this:

     "Does McCourt really intend to sell or is he still seeking a way to retain ownership?"

    This is the way these theorists are starting to see it:

    --Although McCourt has a year to go under his current television contract with Fox, he has been seeking permission to negotiate with other media outlets. Fox has opposed that procedure, figuring it would ultimately negotiate a new contract wiith a new owner. The dispute has gone to mediation, a process that was supposed to end last week but was extended through the current week, suggesting that some form of progress is being made. Suppose McCourt emerges with an extension with Fox or the right to pursue a multi year, multi million dollar deal with another media outlet.

   --Suppose, at that point, McCourt figures he has or will have enough to pay creditors, his $130 million divorce from Jamie and retain operation of the Dodgers. All of these suppositions fall under the authority of the bankruptcy court, and the biggest challenge then for McCourt would have to be suing Selig for coercion in forcing him to sign his sale agreement with MLB.

   Before director Stone starts to salivate and distraught Dodger fans begin to Occupy Chavez Ravine, this is strictly the theory of several people involved in the process and a longshot at best, although as one person who is closely involved in the process said of McCourt:, "I wouldn't put anything past him or attempt to speculate about what he might or might not do. It is only in the last few weeks that I have come to realize how unpredictable he is."

   One thing seems beyond speculation or theory: If the Dodgers are going to have a new owner it will not happen by opening day.

   "Taking into consideration the current pace, the complex finances and the eventual background checks, I think the All-Star break is more likely," said one of the sources.

   In the meantime, McCourt has continued to feed the conspiracy theorists by suddenly agreeing to a $160 million contract with Matt Kemp (though it is largely back-loaded), lowering the price on some tickets and magnanimously contributing to the building of a new inner city diamond, as if these acts alone can rebuild his community image.

  In the general manager's office, however, it is unlikely that over-paying for catcher Matt Treanor, second baseman Mark Ellis, infielder Adam Kennedy, pitcher Chris Capuano and outfielder Juan Rivera will rebuild much of anything  
       

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Relax! Kemp's MVP Loss Is Not a Robbery

    

      By Ross Newhan

      Yes, Matt Kemp came within one home run of becoming only the fifth major league player to hit 40 and steal 40 bases in the same season--a remarkable accomplishment when viewed in that historical prism.

      His overal statistics in a true breakthrough summer earned him the Hank Aaron Award as the National League's top hitter, and had I been a member of the Baseball Writers Assn. committee selecting the National League's Most Valuable Player, the Dodger center fielder would have received my first place vote--and not on a partisan basis, or so I would like to think.

    Yet, those same overall statistics, when measured against those of Milwaukee Brewers' left fielder Ryan Bruan, were not so different or overwhelming as to disparage the committee's selection of Braun for the MVP. Braun received 20 or 32 first place votes, basically because his Brewers won the NL's Central Division title while the Dodgers finished a distant third in the West. Based on their team's performance, you would have to say they each received the right award--Kemp the Hank Aaron and Braun the MVP.

     Consider: Kemp led the league in homers and RBI (126) while batting .324 to Braun's .332, 111 RBI, 33 homers, 33 steals and league leading .994 combination of on-base and slugging percentage.

     As it is, Kemp has already had an impressive off-season with the Aaron Award, $160 million contract and knowledge that a new owner should eventually lift the Dodgers into the same post-season environment that Braun has enjoyed the last two years.

     X      X     X
    Given the number of lockouts and strikes that I covered in close to 40 years on the baseball beat it is difficult to believe that the five year bargaining agreement announced Tuesday will stretch the industry's current baseball peace to 21 years, a measure of how well owners and players are doing financially and how willing they are too compromise on complicated issues, a message that should be heard by Congress.

   The new agreement is particularly newsworthy what with the pioneering adoption on a limited basis of  HGH testing, confirmation that the post-season will now include two wild card teams in each league and a one game play-in between them with the winner advancing in each league, a new and complicated system that owners hope will reduce payouts in the amateur draft (and to foreign players), a new and complicated system governing contracts to free agents, increased use of replays and, amid even more, a change in the arbitration process involving two year players, increasing the percentage of eligible players from 17 to 22, a goal the union has been seeking for several years.

   Commissioner Bud Selig absorbs much abuse at times, but baseball is now at the forefront of drug testing among professional sports, and its labor relations is far ahead of any other sport.

   X X X

   More than 20 individuals and/or groups have notified Blackstone Advisory Partners, the firm handling the sale of trhe Dodgers, that they are interested in purchasing the club according to multiple sources who can't be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the record.     
     



        By Ross Newhan

 



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Owners Confirm Realignment/Post-Season Blog




     By Ross Newhan

     The decision by major league owners Thursday to tentatively approve 2013 realignment, which will move Houston to the American League West, and the expansion of the post-season (possibly 2012) to include a second wild card team in each league (with the two wild card teams in each league meeting in a one-gane play-in), was reported by this blog on Oct. 30. The Angels have some legitimate objections to the addition of a second Central Time Zone team moving into the West, but barring total realignment of the 30 teams, moving the Astros from the six team National League Central to the four team AL West was the simplest step. Also, the current down cycle of the Astros can easily become an up cycle in a few years, so the Angels should be welcoming the Astros to a division in which the Texas Rangers, for the time being, are still their only real title rival. In addition, the more interesting and challenging aspect of having 15 teams in each league will be the nightly (daily) need for an interleague game and having that play out fairly for each team over the schedule of 162 games.

      X     X    X

     So, the Dodgers get some positive news as the ownership tenure of Frank McCourt creeps toward resolution. Commissioner Bud Selig allows the Dodgers to sign Matt Kemp to an eight year, $160 million contract (the bulk of which will become the responsibility of the new owner), the NL Cy Young Award deservedly goes to Clayton Kershaw, and Kemp should receive the NL's Most Valuable Player Award
next week. However, buried by these bigger stories is the fact that General Manager Ned Colletti is still being forced to fill holes with second tier type players. Free agent Matt Treanor will join A.J. Ellis as an underwhelming duo behind the plate, and a fading Mark Ellis takes over at second base, surprisingly getting a two year contract at almost $9 million. If this is the way the Dodgers are going to fill rotation, bullpen and third base needs (they had also signed second tier Juan Rivera to play left field for $4.5 million), it isn't going to be any easier for Don Mattingly in his second year as manager, presuming a new owner won't be in place until the current player market has been depleted. 

         








      

Thursday, November 3, 2011

O'Malley's Decision to Bid for the Dodgers a Welcome Step

 

     By Ross Newhan

     Ever since he and his sister, Terry Seidler, sold the Dodgers in 1998, Peter O'Malley has insisted he did not wish to return to baseball in an ownership role.

     However, watching the family jewel decay, first under Rupert Murdoch's ownership, and than at an accelerated pace under Frank and Jamie McCourt, O'Malley has changed his mind, as he revealed in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

    On the phone to this writer Thursday morning, O'Malley confirmed that he will put an investment group together and believes no one is better equipped to restore the stability of the franchise and the trust of the community.

     "I will nitpick with what was written only to the extent of clarifying that I will be responsible for the success or failure of the team. I will not be an advisor, I will be the chief executive."

    Asked about the estimated auction cost of $1 billion, which is more than three times what he and Seidler recieved when they sold the Dodgers, O'Malley said in our phone conversation,"no one knows what the cost will be but the numbers have to work. No one should overpay and be forced into another distress sale in five or six years."

    It can be said with a degree of certainty that one of his investment partners will be the renowed Eli Broad, who helps provide instant financial and community credibility.

   On Wednesday I had written in this blog space that the ownership search, with Commissioner Bud Selig providing final approval, should start and finish with Dennis Gilbert, who satisfies all the criteria.

   It was written with the knowledge that the search will not start and stop with one man or group. It was written only to say that Gilbert should be a partner or an officer in the club no matter how the search plays out. There are dozens of worthy names that will emerge during this process, and dozens more emerging from under their hedge funds that are not so worthy.

  It is conceivable that to meet the price, or get close to it, Selig will put together two groups or even chose selected names from several groups, as he did with the Boston Red Sox, melding John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner. Interestingly, Frank McCourt was a bidder in that auction and finished far behind. Not long later, however, Selig approved his highly leveraged puchase of the Dodgers. The commissioner's determination now to force McCourt out of baseball merely confirms his understanding that he had made a mistake when approving McCourt.

  Thus, given Selig's authority and his willingness to move the chess pieces, O'Malley and Gilbert could end up on the same team, or two or three other names could end up on the winning team having started from a different place. Certainly, O'Malley and Gilbert have the respect of the community, and Selig knows better than to select another owner from outside the Los Angeles community.

  The commissioner and O'Malley had differences during the period that Selig was Acting Commissioner and O'Malley still owned the team. There was an absence of mutuel respect that can be documented by stories I wrote for the L.A. Times and are now found in the newspaper's archives. On Thursday, however, O'Malley said emphatically, "We had professional differences but absolutely mended those fences long ago. I talked to Bud yesterday and have talked to him today. We are fine."  

   X     X    X

   Throughout my career in journalism I have always believed in giving credit where credit is due, and in the complex coverage of the McCourt beat no one deserves more credit than Bill Shaikin, my former colleague at the L.A. Times.

   He has obviously opened avenues to lawyers on all sides, stayed on top of the myriad court documents and innovatively created news stories from bits of information, advancing the sordid saga another notch. A few months ago I told Mike James, the sports editor of The Times, that I considered Shaikin's work worthy of Pulitzer Prize nomination. I hope James and the editors take that step.           

              

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dodger Ownership Search Should Start and Stop with Dennis Gilbert




     By Ross Newhan

     Now that Frank McCourt has at least one of his Bruno Magli's out the door (yes, O.J. wore them as well), Commissioner Bud Selig has the responsibility not to make the same mistake he did when he bowed to Fox's accelerated demands to sell the Dodgers and approved the under financed McCourts.

     No out of city, out of state, out of country owner this time.

    A respected Los Angeles figure has to emerge as the owner or the principal partner.

   At this point we don't really know about the financing of the Steve Garvey/Orel Hershiser partnership, although both have been insisting that they have the funds. Whether that means a billion or more isn't clear. The suspicion is that the final accounting will be a bit lower.

    At this point, as well, we don't know if Lew Wolff would finally give up his frustrating battle to secure a new ballpark for his Oakland A's and return to his hometown of Los Angeles or if Mark Attanasio would trade his division champion Milwaukee Brewers and the uncertain quest to re-sign Prince Fielder in a semi- exchange for his hometown Dodgers or if Tom Werner would yield his part ownership of the Boston Red Sox to return to Los Angeles and his movie-TV roots.

   All would fit, as would Magic Johnson, Casey Wasserman, Alan Crasden, Alec Gores, Peter Gruber and the omipresent Eli Broad from a list of a dozen or more Los Angeles based movie/business/technology possibilities, but there is one person who HAS to be involved as either owner, principal partner or president/chief executive, and that is Dennis Gilbert.

   Gilbert played high school ball in the Los Angeles area, was a renowned player agent based in the city and now is a partner in one of the West side's largest insurance/estate planning companies (Gilbert-Krupin).

   In addition, he played the game professionally, is an executive with the Chicago White Sox and thus a close friend of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, headed a group that was runnerup in bidding for the Texas Rangers, used his own money to build an inner city baseball diamond in the hope of reinvigorating the sport in that one-time hot bed of talent and nine years ago initiated an annual Professional Baseball Scouts dinner and auction to benefit indigent and ill scouts and their families (this year's dinner is Jan. 14 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel).

   Amid the mess that was the 2011 Dodger season Gilbert the fan still could be found in his season tickets directly behind home plate in the first row.

   From a baseball/business/philanthropy standpoint there may be no one in the city as well known or more prepared to operate a team, even as a general manager, although current general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly deserve the opportunity to spend at least one more season amid a sustainable and well-funded ownership.

   Selig hopes to have that owner in place by opening day of next season. How that impacts the Dodgers during an offseason in which Colletti hopes to sign Matt Kemp to a multi-year contract and the club on the field needs significant help isn't clear.

   Frank and Jamie McCourt couldn't have created a bigger mess, and not even his desired sale price of $1 billion (or more) might cover Frank's tax, debts and divorce obligations.

   He owes Jamie $130 million in their divorce settlement, and his tax and legal bills may rival the highly leveraged $441 million that they paid for the franchise before "looting $189 million" from the team to support their lavish lifestyle, according to court documents filed by Major League Baseball.

  Shortly after Selig made the mistake of approving the McCourt's purchase, Frank invited this reporter to a private lunch at the Jonathan Club. He said that he wanted to pick my brain as to how Walter and Peter O'Malley had operated the team with the goal of regaining that stability and attaining that respect.

  For a time it looked like it might happen. Now we know how embarrasingly far the McCourts came from that aspiration and how far down the flagpole that they ran one of baseball's flagship franchises.

  Now, however, Selig gets another crack at making amends.

  Dennis Gilbert is the right place to start.

            

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thinking of LaRussa in the Mauch Mold



       By Ross Newhan

      Approaching Tony LaRussa and Gene Mauch in a major league clubhouse was always a tricky business.

      You couldn't always count on cordiality, but you certainly could count on an insightful reponse that was seldom a cliche.

     In that regard, the retiring LaRussa and the late Mauch were in a special category among the managers I have covered during 50 years of writing about baseball, and that is no knock on Bill Rigney, Sparky Anderson, Walt Alston, Tom Lasorda, John McNamara, Bobby Cox and Mike Scioscia, who I also put in a very special category.

    It's just that there was always an edge to LaRussa and Mauch, a degree of conceit, perhaps.

   If you walked away feeling they had provided an answer beyond the scope of most managers, you could be certain that was what they were thinking as well.

   Mauch didn't do the winning that LaRussa did, but he took undermanned teams in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Anaheim farther, perhaps, than they should have gone.

   If LaRussa is deservedly headed to the Hall of Fame, Mauch should already be there.

  X      X     X 

   If Frank McCourt and Bud Selig are truly close to a settlement which will result in McCourt selling the Dodgers, the only word I can think of is one I have used before:

   --Shame on Frank and Jamie McCourt for turning the Dodgers into their personal ATM, losing the support of a city that had always bled Blue and leaving a flagship franchise with no other course except bankruptcy court.

  --Shame on Selig for bowing to the quick sale demands of Fox and approving the McCourts' highly leveraged purchase of the Dodgers despite repeated accounts in Boston and Los Angeles that the new owners really couldn't afford it and had a poor resume for following through on proposed projects, which is how we got to a place where now the commissioner has to find a billionaire speculator who doesn't live in Beijing.

     

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It Will Eventually Become Tougher for Wild Card



     By Ross Newhan

     With their spectacular and improbable comeback from a 10 1/2 game deficit in late August to World Series winner, the St. Louis Cardinals became the fifth wild card team to successfully negotiate the post-season since the wild card's creation in 1993. They joined the Florida Marlins of 1997 and 2003, the Angels of 2002 and the Boston Red Sox of 2004.

    The task is eventually going to become more difficult, which has been a goal of  baseball's managers and general managers for several years.

    It won't happen in 2012, but 2013 or soon after is a strong possibility.

    Angel manager Mike Scioscia, a member of Commissioner Bud Selig's special 14 member committee to investigate realignment and expansion of the postseason, suggested as much in a private chat Saturday.

    The process would be two-fold:

    1--The American and National leagues would be realigned with 15 teams in each and five teams in every division.

   2--A second wild card based on the next best record in each league would be added to the playoffs with the two wild card teams in each league playing one play-in game, the winner qualifying for the division series in each league.

   "The playoffs would never take the form of any of the other sports where eight or 10 teams qualify, but this would be a safety valve for a second wild card team which might have won 90 or more games but now is totally out," Scioscia said. "This year, for example, you would have had Boston and Tampa Bay playing a one game play-in (in the American League and Atlanta and St. Louis in the National)."

   Scioscia wouldn't say this, but his managerial and GM colleagues have long believed that the wild card in each league should pay a price for not having won any of the three divisions. A play-in game would force the two wild cards to use either their best or second best pitchers, meaning that pitcher wouldn't be pitching the division series opener and might be limited to just one start in that five game series.

   Thus, winning a division would still carry the highest premium and reward.

   X

  Jerry Dipoto made an impressive debut in his introductory news conference as the Angels new GM Saturday, but the only way to judge any general manager is by his performance.

  Owner Arte Moreno said Dipoto will have "complete power" and the semi-security of a three year contract wtih two option years.

   However, his relationship with Scioscia, whose contract runs through 2018 and matter of factly said he will continue voicing his opinions, will be watched closely.

  Give Dipoto credit, however, for both dismissing his concern about that subject and welcoming Scioscia's opinion with a touch of humor.

  Speaking of the interviewing process with Moreno and club president John Carpino, the new GM said:

  "I never woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat wondering if I was going to get steamrolled by Mike. At no time did this become a sticking point for me.

  "I've worked in this business my entire adult life, for 24 years, and what might look unusual outside the league is very common to me. I love the opinion of baseball people and talking to strong-minded people."

  Dipoto, having participated in just about every phase of the sport and it's management, has faced tougher crucibles than working with Scioscia, which is undoubtedly over-stating the assignment of working with the personable but strong willed manager.

  The new general manager revealed he battled thyroid cancer in the 90s, dealt with a blood clot that briefly stopped his heart and coped wth a bulging disc that contributed to the end of his playing career.

   His philosophies and opinions about the game are contained in a 45 page book that he calls a "living document" and began compiling five years ago. He is a strong believer in on-base percentage, but sources insist he is on the fringes of the computer-dominated Moneyball school and not a full-fledged advocate. 

  X

   In that imperfect but classic Game 6 of the World Series, I thought Texas manager Ron Washington made his costliest mistake of the Series when he used Derek Holland in relief rather than saving him for a potential start in Game 7. Washington stuck with his season-long rotation, using Matt Harrison despite the dominance of Holland in his 4-0 Game 4 victory over the Cardinals.

   X
  
   Albert Pujols made $16 million in the final year of a seven year, $100 million contract. He will be 32 in January.Is he really going to find a semi-similar contract anywhere except St. Louis?

   X

  The out of the blue emergence of David Freese as MVP of both the World Series and League Championship Series should serve as motivation for any young player who has thought of giving up the game or has become mentally blown out at the idea of another year in the minors. As the father of a former big leaguer, the percentage of those who have actually been given the privilege of living the dream is so small compared to those whose dreams have died on a distant sandlot is so small that the idea of giving up the uniform volunarily should be a bridge crossed only if there is no other choice.

  X

   If Steve Garvey truly has a group capable of paying whatever price the Dodgers are going to sell for in the apparent settlement between Selig and Frank McCourt he should play it cool and stop appearing on the talk radio circuit discussing his plans for the team and Dodger Stadium. The names of several prospective buyers have yet to surface, according to Los Angeles based sources I have talked to, and Garvey fits the category of longshot, although this soap opera has been so crazy no one can saying anything with absolute certainty.

  X

 Information on David Newhan's baseball academy: DavidNewhan.com                                 

         

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Has Napoli Overtaken Ryan as Angels' Worst Mistake?



      By Ross Newhan

      With each clutch, Bunyanesque hit during the post-season, with each base stealer thrown out (and everyone in Anaheim remembers how bad a defensive catrcher he was supposed to be, as the Angels alleged), the albatross that was the trading of Mike Napoli tighens around the necks of Arte Moreno, Tony Reagins and Mike Scioscia.

      It doesn't matter who does the finger pointing among the three or in which direction the finger is pointed, Napoli simply keeps hammering it in, driving the division rival Texas Rangers toward a World Series title, and this could be painful to the Angels for more than one year and in more than one way.

     First of all, catchers with Napoli's offensive prowess (he hit 66 homers in three seasons--two of which were part-time--with the Angels) and 30 with the Rangers this year aren't hanging from every tree or easily apparent on every big league roster. There's Brian McCann of Atlanta, OK. After that, Joe Mauer is probably headed to first base in Minnesota, Geovanny Soto has not regained his 2008 Rookie of the Year form with the Chicago Cubs, Buster Posey of the Giants is recovering from a broken leg, Yadier Molina of the Cardinals is more defense than offense, and Jorge Posada of the Yankees is in the twighlight of an outstanding career and no longer a fulltime catcher. With Posey sidelined, the only young catcher that stirs a little Napoli imagination is Matt Wieters, who hit 22 homers and drove in 68 runs in his second full season as Baltimore's catcher, although the Angels will try to say that Hank Conger's promise (six homers in 197 at bats) was part of the reason Napoli was available.

       Secondly, the Angels are burdened with three more years and $63 million of Vernon Wells' contract, and it is anyone's guess which direction Wells is headed after leaving Toronto. He kept looking for his lost form during sporadic trips to the Angels' bench and never found it in any kind of definitive way. He did end the season with 25 home runs, but he batted .218 with a sickly on base percentage of .248. Wells' financial burden could limit what the club's new leadership can do during the coming winter.

    In the meantime, Napoli's post-season barrage, in the aftermath of a season in which he helped the Rangers leave the Angels 10 games back in what is essentially a two team division, has Angel fans shaking their heads and some legitimately asking if Napoli's departure surpasses the departure of Nolan Ryan as the worst mistake in Angel history. Ryan left after the 1979 season when owner Gene Autry and general manager Buzzie Bavasi refused to meet his free agent demand of $1 million. Ryan had thrown four no-hitters with the Angels and set a single season strike out record as a workhorse drawing card. He would go on to pitch 14 more years, throw three more no-hitters and finish with a record 5,714 strike outs and 324 wins.

   Bavasi, who passed away recently, sent Ryan a wire as he continued to enhance his Angels statistics, first with Houston and then with Texas, that read: "I have already said that not re-signing you was my biggest mistake. You don't have to keep rubbing it in." As Napoli rubs it in, Fox cameras have been sending nightly views of Ryan, now the Texas co-owner, cheering on his catcher--a double dose of sad longing for Angel fans.

   X

   We are in the process of re-designing this blog site.

   My son, the former major leaguer David Newhan, was sharing the site and doing some outstanding blogs when we first got started, but he now coaches in the San Diego Padres system and has a baseball academy in the Carlsbad area in the off-season.

  For more information on that you can check DavidNewhan.com.
                  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scioscia Is a Major Issue (Problem?) in Moreno's GM Search



      By Ross Newhan

      At the time of Bill Stoneman's retirement as general manager of the Angels, virtually every columnist and baseball reporter in Southern California, including this writer, observed that manager Mike Scioscia, given his longterm contract and managerial success, would assume a more powerful position in roster decisions and the organization's structure.

      If that is true, if that, indeed, is the way it has played out, then Scioscia bears some responsibility for at least some of the decisions that have removed Tony Reagins as general manager, just as owner Arte Moreno does.

     No decision is made in a vacuum. If the Angels pass on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre but opt to open the mint for Vernon Wells, it wasn't strictly Reagins decision.

     Now, with Moreno and club president John Carpino apparently heading the search for a new general manager, it doesn't matter which or how many candidates they interview because all of them will want to be assured that they would have full authority in the daily operation and won't be just a personal secretary for Scioscia, providing Scioscia himself isn't elevated to the GM role.

     It is also possible, the word was circulating Saturday, that Scioscia, despite his contract security and       
accepted voice in organization decisions, might feel this is the right time to depart if the right offer comes along. It would have to be a big money, long term, immediate win situation, of which there aren't many, but it's almost certain that the Boston Red Sox, among others, may investigate.

    In the meantime, it can be said with total assuredness that Moreno is going to have to define Scioscia's stature each time he meets with a GM candidate.
  
       

Friday, September 30, 2011

Reagins Resignation? No Way His Decision





    By Ross Newhan

    Tony Reagins kept insisting in a Friday conference call that his decision to resign as general manager of the Angels came after 30 days of discussions with his family.

    With due respect, I don't believe that for a minute.

     I mean, you don't have to go much further than the third or fourth paragraph of the Angels' press release on the Reagins development to find owner Arte Moreno quoted as saying:

    "In moving forward we felt a change was needed."

    It's that simple.

   Moreno is pouring too much money into the Angels to tolerate not making the playoffs for the second straight year.

   Why would Reagins give up the job he pursued, step by ladder step, for 20 years in the organization. He had no choice but to move into the non-factor role of assistant to chairman Dennis Kuhl if he wanted to keep drawing his contractural pay check.

   The Angels were an enigma this year, and Reagins contributed to that.

   I don't blame him for the enormously high priced Vernon Wells going into the tank after being acquired in a trade for Mike Napoli, who compounded the mysterious collapse of Wells by having a career year with the division winning Texas Rangers. I do blame Reagins for doing nothing at the non-waiver trade deadline despite the Angels need for power at third base, starting help at the back end of the rotation and bonafide relief help at a time Texas was trading for two bonafide relievers. The Angels needed a lift, and Reagins needed to send a message to the clubhouse that he would do anything within reason to provide it. Instead, he did nothing.

   In large measure, the Angels are still living off their 2002 World Series victory. Yes, they won five of seven division titles after that, but they have not returned to the World Series and they are no longer the dominant team in the American League West despite having only Texas to beat given the hapless stature of the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's.

   I wrote in a recent blog that for the first time in Mike Scioscia's tenure as manager there was a strange aura emanating from the clubhouse and a stranger inconsistency to the team's performance.

   Maybe it is time for Scioscia to move upstairs, replacing Reagins and prompting the Angels to search for a new manager rather than a general manager.

   Maybe former bench coach Joe Maddon could be convinced to return as manager, aklthough he certainly has a good thing going in Tampa Bay.

   If not Scioscia as GM, or possibly Los Angeles resident Joe Torre, the recommendation here is that Moreno make another of his major capital investments by attempting to lure Theo Epstein from Boston before the new ownership of the Chicago Cubs offers him a partnership stake and half of the Wrigley Field ivy.

   On Friday, the Red Sox, in the aftermath of the club's 7-20 September wild card collapse, announced that manager Terry Francona's option years would not be picked up.

  Francona led the Sox to two World Series titles in his eight years, changing the franchise's hapless history. His firing, sources close to the club told me, was not Epstein's idea. He was overruled by the club's owners, a stupid move that could not have sat well with Epstein, who, despite his New England roots, may be ready for another challenge in a less frantic environment.

   He would find a solid nucleus, featuring Jered Weaver and a core of talented young players who were all scouted and signed by former scouting director Eddie Bane. The latter was ousted by Reagins last winter in a personality clash. That inexplicable firing prompted Reagins to take some heat from this writer and others.

  Reagins is out of the firing line now, and I can't believe anyone would think it was his decision.                                
           

Thursday, September 29, 2011

They Should Bottle Wednesday Night

     




       By Ross Newhan

       It is safe to say that baseball has never experienced a more memorable series of 162nd games than those of Wednesday night, certainly not since the introduction of the wild card.

       Testing my dexterity with the TV remote--or that of any viewer--the virtually simultaneous finishes in Baltimore and Tampa Bay, along with the slightly earlier finish in Atlanta, combined all the nuances, strategies, emotions and elements that still make baseball the best game--or would you still prefer watching the Browns and Bengals?

       When the Red Sox and Braves were finished in more ways than one--authors of two or the greatest collapses in baseball history and probably surpassing anything the Red Sox had done before in that regard-- it was being whispered and written that Boston general manager Theo Epstein will now take on another monumental assignment by moving to a similar position with the Chicago Cubs (if Ned Colletti doesn't) and that Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez--a few minutes ago the virtually handpicked and remodeled Bobby Cox--will be fired.

     Managers often get fired when a closer who is one of the best in baseball fails in a pivotal moment.

     With the American League wild card--or, at least, a tie for it--on the line in Boston, Jonathan Papelbon, couldn't get the one out he needed in Baltimore. Nor could Craig Kimbrel. with a tie for the National League lead at stake in Atlanta, get the ninth inning shutout he needed. Kimbrel set an NL rookie record this year with 46 saves but was making his 79th appearance. A lot of work at 23.

     Of course, it should never have come down to the ninth inning of Game 162.

    The Braves led St. Louis by 8 1/2 games in the first week of September, and the Red Sox led Tampa Bay by nine on Sept. 4, becoming the first team in baseball history to lose a nine game lead in the final month.

     Now, however, it will be the Cardinals, who had defeated Houston earlier Wednesday night, advancing to the NL's division series, and the Rays moving on in the AL.

   Tampa Bay's September comeback was capped by the game of games Wednesday night, rebounding from a 7-0 deficit against the New York Yankees by scoring six runs in the eighth inning, trying it in the ninth and winning it on a 12th inning home run by Evan Longoria, who had hit a three run homer in the eighth.

    The victory came only a few minutes after the Red Sox loss had been flashed on the Tampa scoreboard, and as Manager Joe Maddon said later, speaking of his team's improbable comeback against both the Yankees and Red Sox but capturing the events of a memorable night in Baltimore and Atlanta as well, "...it all goes beyond earthly measure."  
      
     So far beyond that the postseason will be difficult to top it.
 end                                                 
     

      

     

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kemp and Kershaw: Not Everything About the Dodgers is Bankrupt





            By Ross Newhan  

           There has been much discussion recently--well, not quite as much as the relentless (and often ridiculous) rhetoric regarding the debt ceiling--about the possibility of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw winning the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, salvaging a measure of pride for a dysfunctional organization out of this deflating season.

           Both awards have never gone to players on a last place team--San Diego, of course, may save the Dodgers from that added indignity--nor have both ever gone to players on a team so miserably low in the standings or so miserable in overall record as the Dodgers. It is a fact, however, that pitchers on a last place team have won the Cy Young Award and position players on a last place team have won the MVP Award.

          You can look it up, and this is what you find:

          The American League's last two Cy Young awards have gone to pitchers on last place teams---Kansas City's Zach Greineke in 2009 and Seattle's Felix Hernandez last year. A third pitcher, Steve Carlton of last place Philadelphia, also won the National League's award in 1972, when he captured almost 50% of his team's total victories.

        In addition, the Most Valuable Player Award has been voted to position players on last place teams twice--Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs in 1987 and Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers in 2003--and five other times it has gone to players on teams with either .500 or losing records:      

      1952 NL--Hank Sauer, Cubs, finished 5th of eight teams;  1958 NL--Ernie Banks, Cubs, 5th of 8;  1959 NL--Ernie Banks, Cubs, 6th of 8; 1989 AL--Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 4th of 7; 1991 AL--Cal Ripken, Jr., Baltimore, 6th of 7.

      Since 1967, the first year that the Cy Young award was split into both an American and National League award, seven pitchers have won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in the same season: Denny McLain of Detroit won the AL awards in 1968 and Bob Gibson of St. Louis won the NL awards that same season; Vida Blue of Oakland won the AL awards in 1971; Rollie Fingers of Milwaukee won the NL awards in 1981; Willie Hernandez of Detroit won the AL awards in 1984; Roger Clemens of Boston won the AL awards in 1986, and Dennis Eckersley of Oakland won the AL awards in 1992.

     In addition, since '67, players from the same team have won the respective awards five times: Boston's Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg in '67; San Diego's Kevin Mitchell and Mark Davis in '89; Oakland's Rickey Henderson and Bob Welch in '90; Oakland's Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito in '02, and Minnesota's Justin Morneau and Johan Santana in '06. 

     The awards are voted by eligible members of committees selected each year from the rolls of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

    What do I think? Where am I on Kemp and Kershaw?

    What I have come to think over more than four decades of baseball coverage is that my voting basis clearly differs between the awards.

     I think the Cy Young should go to the pitcher with the best statistical performance in his league. It is preferable that it go to a pitcher on a team with a winning record, but that is not absolute.

    My thinking on the MVP is that I look for a player whose performance indisputably helped his team win a title or get close to a title.

   If there is no clear cut standout in that regard, then I turn to the overall statistics and the overwhelming leader in that regard, no matter where his team finished. 

    It is probably too early to make definitive selections in the National League.

    As of Wednesday morning, however, I would put Kershaw in the heart of the Cy Young competition, probably with Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, Arizona's Ian Kennedy and Atlanta's closer, Craig Kimbrel. Kershaw was tied for first in wins, first in strikeouts per nine innings, second in innings pitched and seventh in earned-run average. He has been getting better as the summer has gotten hotter, and there would be no reason to withhold the Cy Young from him if he maintains his current form depite the dead end form of the Dodgers.

     Kemp is even more of a statistical force among position players. He was third in batting average, second in home runs, third in stolen bases, first in total bases and runs batted in, and first in the seamhead categories of runs created and WAR--which is wins above replacement or how many more wins has he provided the Dodgers than they would have using a replacement player from triple A. It stands to reason that a club would have more wins with a major leaguer in the lineup but, nevertheless, Kemp's percentage is the league's highest. There is no one in the National League having the overall year that Kemp is having, but there will be voters favoring a player on a winning or contending team--perhaps Prince Fielder of Milwaukee or Lance Berkman of St. Louis or Justin Upton of Arizona or Ryan Howard of Philadelphia.

    This much is clear:

     In what has been a bankrupt season for the Dodgers, in more ways than one, Kershaw and Kemp could both earn gold--and justifiably. 

    

         

            

       

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ranking the Trade Deadline





    

    I am returning to the blog this week for the obligatory ranking of winners and losers in the trade market, having been occupied in other writing assignments and retirement pursuits.

     This is a brief look at the way I see it:

 
                                WINNERS

     1: Texas Rangers: It had to be a boost for Nolan Ryan's ailing heart and the erratic beat of the bullpen when general manager Jon Daniels landed two of the best set up men in baseball: Mike Adams from San Diego and Koji Uehara from Baltimore. Consider their combined numbers this season: 95 innings, 51 hits, 111 strike outs, 17 walks. The Rangers still have a race on their hands with the Angels, but what Daniels did was shorten their rotation's assignment to six innings.

   2:  Pittsburgh Pirates: Give the Pirates credit for trying to take advantaage of their once in a lifetime opportunity in the NL Central. At a time when the Pirates were starting a familiar slide, they aded veteran hitters Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee (a combined 23 homers and 105 runs batted in), which should help lift some of the burden from their better than anticipated pitching staff, particularly if touted third baseman Pedro Alvarez proves he benefitted from a minor league exile.

   3: San Francisco Giants--Houston's Hunter Pence may have been a better overall fit, but General Manager Brian Sabean sent a message to his pitchers and patrons by acquiring the best pure hitter on the market, Carlos Beltran, and then adding two valuable infield pieces: Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera. There is no reason why the Giants shouldn't breeze in the NL West, the first step in retention of their World Series title, but also keep the name of Zach Wheeler in mind. He is the young pitcher the New York Mets insisted on in trading Beltran, and is generally ranked the best pitching prospect in the minors.

  4: Tie between Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves: The Phillies simply don't miss any more when they set their sights on a player, Pence following Roy Halliday, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. Hidden in Houston where he was expected to carry more than his share of the load, Pence is the perfect complement to a lineup already deep in talent. The Braves, trying to keep within sight of the Phillies in the NL East and retain their wild card lead, landed a catalytic center fielder in Michael Bourn of the disbanding Astros. Bourn brought 32 steals to a team with 42 overall and a .354 on-base percentage to a team with baseball's 26th lowest.

                               LOSERS
  
    1: Houston Astros--The Astros couldn't get rid of everything they wanted to, but Pence, Bourn and Keppinger pretty much deflated the offense, and starters Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers may still slide through waivers. New owner Jim Crane has obviously instructed GM Ed Wade to rebuild for the future, and while Wade acquired some decent prospects for Pence and Bourn, the Astros will have an expansion look until the future becomes reality---maybe in 2015.

  2: New York Yankees--General Manager Brian Cashman either lost his cell phone or was told his credit card is already overdrawn, but when was the last time the Yankees weren't a major player in any kind of trade or sales market? Of course, they are only two games behind Boston in the AL East, should be getting Alex Rodriguez back from knee surgery in mid-month and aren't exactly hurting in any particular area except for a rotation conspicuously thin of October type reliability after C.C. Sabathia. Obviously, Cashman, protecting Ivan Nova and other prospects, obviously didn't think either Ubaldo Jimenez or Edwin Jackson were certain enough to fit that category.

   3: Angels--How strange. The Angels have produced one of baseball's best recent records in keeping pace with the Rangers, who they may yet catch and defeat in the AL West, but not since Mike Scioscia and Bill Stoneman changed the philosophy of this organization have I felt that that aura has gone backwards. It is probably too large and mysterious to get at in one paragraph. Maybe I am sensing something that really hasn't changed, maybe all that was needed, is needed, is a power hitting third baseman, a more reliable rotation beyond Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, a younger Torii Hunter and a Vernon Wells who doesn't masquerade as Gary Matthews Jr. One thing is clear: nothing changed on July 31 and we will have to see if the Angels can overcome their shortcomings--tangible and intangible.
 
   4: Dodgers--What more needs to be said except this: What in the world was Hiroki Kuroda thinking? I suppose a player who wants to play out his contract with one team and not uproot his family in mid-season is to be admired. On the other hand, I have never understood how a player can excercise his no-trade clause and turn down the opportunity to join a contender, as Kuroda did. Whether it was the Red Sox or Yankees or whoever, how could anything be more important to a player than to compete for a potential champion? Kuroda, I suppose, his has eyes on free agency in the winter or returning to Japan to play. In the meantime, he will go on pitching for a dysfunctional organization that has no shot at a championship---this year, next year or, perhaps, years beyond.
         

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More McCourt, and the Passing of Harmon Killebrew




     By Ross Newhan

     So, the latest from Frank McCourt is that even if he wasn't strapped for money the Dodger roster would be the same.

     In other words, even if he didn't need to take loans to meet his payroll, he would still have a roster that is last in the National League in runs, has no left fielder, a bullpen that can't be trusted and a journeyman infield because the original shortstop and third baseman are aged and injury prone veterans?

    He can't be serious, but that's what he said.

   In the meantime, former Cincinnati executive John Allan  has been appointed to assist trustee Tom Schieffer in his investigation of how a flagship franchise can deteriorate so quickly and completely, and what Commissioner Bud Selig is actually doing is making sure he has an executive staff in place when he ousts McCourt, whose eventual options seem to be down to suing the commissioner or declaring bankruptcy--or a combination thereof.

   X

  I saw many of Harmon Killebrew's 573 home runs while covering the Angels in the 60s, including the longest ever hit in Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins first home after moving from Washington D.C.

 That record, 570 foot shot was hit off a Lew Burdette knuckleball when the former Milwaukee Braves star was trying to prolong his career with the Angels in what turned out to be his final big league season.

 The drive rocketed off a green, upper deck seat in left field, a seat still on display at the Mall of America, which was built on the site of the former ballpark after the Twins moved to the Metrodome.

 "I didn't need to turn and watch it," Burdette said. "I knew how far it went because I could hear it." 

 I was saddened Monday to hear that Killebrew had lost his battle with cancer, though he had previously released a statement saying he was giving up the battle and hoped to die peacefully with his family.

 The man was a sweetheart, as kind, gentle and accessible as he was powerful, an earlier version of Jim Thome, proof that they still make them like that, just not often.