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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Is Scioscia Supposed to Lighten Up With This Clogged Roster?




         By Ross Newhan

         I don't totally dismiss all of the criticisms suddenly being directed at Angel manager Mike Scioscia. Some of his game moves during the series in Tampa Bay defied logic. Maybe it would be useful if he lightened up a bit. His expressionless dugout posture needs an ejection of personality. although Scioscia is Scioscia. He still hides his emotions behind a catcher's mask, and he wasn't any different during the seasons that his team was dominating the division.

        Similarly, the criticisms of his revolving lineups are misplaced.

       The $86 million acquisition of Vernon Wells by the over-matched Tony Reagins and the $240 million acquisition of Albert Pujols by Arte Moreno clogged the roster and payroll.

       With the return of Kendrys Morales and the ongoing presense of Bob Abreau there is no regular role for Mark Trumbo despite his 29 home runs and 87 RBI as a rookie--he was supposed to become a third baseman overnight?--and there is no regular role for Mike Trout, tearing up triple A again.

       With a team hitting sporadically, with a $151 million payroll and a lot of money to swallow on the bench and at virtually every position, what is Scioscia supposed to do except try and start the best nine based on the matchups in every game.        
           
       The season is not quite a month old. Some of this is bound to play out in time.

      Pujols is coming off three declining seasons in St. Louis but his hapless April level can't be for real.

     Trumbo and Trout--a potential T 'N T--have to play somewhere, which may mean biting the over- priced bullet with Wells, not exactly easy since the Angels are still suffering indigestion from having bitten that bullet with Gary Matthews Jr.

     The rotation is still one of baseball's best, and it was--and still is--the new GM's responsibility to rebuild the bullpen, which is probably the most serious problem eroding the Angels' foundation, particularly at closer, where young Jordan Walden still comes without a guarantee and has picked up where he left off with his 10 blown saves of last year.

    No manager is immune, and unless the Angels shake off the April lethargy before Mike Napoli (a haunting mistake for which Scioscia has to bear some responsibility), Yu Darvish, Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers put a stranglehold on the West, then Scioscia's long-term security may not be so long.

  Until then, however, I'm just saying that several chefs (Moreno, Reagins and DiPoto among them) contributed to this ill-defined stew of a roster, and Scioscia hasn't suddenly changed in 12 years as a pretty darn successful manager.

  I'm also saying that maybe Torii Hunter and other pseudo leaders should confine any criticisms to the closed door of the manager's office instead of the media.                  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

El Hombre? We Now Know Who He Really Is





        By Ross Newhan

        Thoughts from the first month (or what do I know with a fantasy team in last place?):

        --Well, we now know that Arte Moreno was simply making a generous gesture to the other L.A. team with his billboards honoring El Hombre. Moreno was simply saluting Matt Kemp, the real El Hombre.

       --Albert Pujols is too much of a proven commodity not to live up to some measure of expectations, although it is worth remembering that, by Pujols' standards, he declined each of his last three years in St. Louis. The fact is that Moreno's 10 year, $240 million contract was an overkill, over-reaction to the Angels' division failures of the last two years and, in reality, all they really needed was a healthy Kendrys Morales to bat behind Mike Trumbo, the signing of C.J. Wilson to stretch out their rotation and a rebuilt bullpen, which remains an unresolved issue. As it is, Manager Mike Scioscia faces a daily lineup dilemma (and for all of Scioscia's talent there are bound to be blow-ups along the way), with the added issue of when to bring up Mike Trout and what to do with him when they do.

     --We all know that Vin Scully is irreplaceable, but I don't understand why Charley Steiner isn't the regular TV voice when Scully is ill or doesn't travel. Steiner is the best of  the rest of the Dodger broadcasting roster, and that isn't a backhanded compliment. The man knows his baseball, tells a good story, has widespread experience and displayed his ability again during the opening home series when Scully was confined to the house.

     --Philip Humber, who hurled baseball's 21st perfect game on behalf of the Chicago White Sox Saturday, is an example of the inexact nature of scouting--whether by eyeball or computer. The New York Mets had the third overall pick in the June draft of 2004. They wanted a future caliber ace with the potential of a quick return and focused on three college pitchers: Justin Verlander of Old Dominion, Jered Weaver of Cal State Long Beach and Humber of Rice. Verlander was picked second overall by Detroit, the Mets passed on Weaver because of his bonus demands and he ultimately went to the Angels as the 12th overall pick, and the Mets chose Humber at No. 3 overall. Humber made one start for the impatient Mets, was traded to the Minnesota in the package that landed Johan Santana in 2008, and he then bounced from the Twins to Kansas City to Oakland and, finally, to the White Sox, who made him an 11th hour addition to their rotation last year. Verlander and Weaver have become aces of their respective teams, but the well-travelled Humber is now part of baseball history, pitching the type of  dominant game that the Mets once envisioned at the top of their own rotation.

    --It would be quite a role and team reversal if Peter O'Malley follows through on his possible interest in buying the San Diego Padres, with the biggest hurdle being the fact that owner John Moores and every other major league owner are salivating over the $2.15 billion that Mark Walter paid for the Dodgers. Moores, who took back the Padres when MLB owners ultimately rejected the ongoing installment purchase by Jeff Moorad, would seem unlikely to get that for the Padres, although they recently signed a 20 year, $1.4 billion television deal with Fox Sports, including a $200 million upfront bonus and a 20% stake in the regional network. O'Malley would undoubtedly, at least in time, turn the operation over to son Kevin and a nephew, Tom Seidler, who have made a respected reputation as partners of the minor league Visalia Rawhide though their Top of the Third, Inc.             

Friday, April 13, 2012

McCourt Gets Court Approval; It's Still a Little Sickening





        By Ross Newhan

        The federal bankruptcy court in Delaware approved the $2.15 billion sale of the Dodgers to Guggenheim Baseball Partners on Friday, leaving Frank McCourt with about $1 billion and a share of the parking lot.

         Do I vomit now or later?

         The agreement basically clears McCourt's creditors, leaves him with enough luxury real estate to open his own brokerage and allows him to pay off Jamie McCourt's $131 million divorce settlement out of loose change--and musn't she be furious that she didn't wait for the club to be sold before settling?

         McCourt?         

        This is a man who was allowed to leverage his $430 million purchase of the Dodgers and conducted a revolving door of front office personnel.

       The caliber of those who left--some in haste and some only after learning it was impossible to work for the McCourts--is exemplified by Bob Graziano, who is now Managing Partner of Northern Trust, Derrick Hall, who is now president of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Camille Johnston, who is now Communications Director for Michelle Obama and assistant to the President.

      In addition, McCourt decimated attendance over time, stripped Dodger Stadium security and quite possibly made only one lasting contribution to the future of this one-time flagaship franchise.

      That was his eight year, $160 million signing of Matt Kemp, whose contract is clearly a bargain compared to some of the contracts that have followed and who continues--in the first week of the new season-- to emerge as the game's best all-around player.

     Only time will determine how Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson pick up the pieces and move forward.

    The stadium needs renovating, the team needs strengthening and it isn't clear yet what the new owners--in what can only be termed as a disturbing partnership with McCourt--have in mind for the parking lot, atlhough that should become clearer soon.

     Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross approved the sale only after a long day of arguments between attorneys for Gugenheim and Major League Baseball, with the baseball attorney's asking for three days to review the terms of the parking lot agreement, and Gross finally ruling in favor of the sale and actually congratulating McCourt on "seeing the big picture." As a Phillies fan, the judge said in conclusion that he hoped the Dodgers wouldn't sign Cole Hamels, who is eligible for free agency after this season.                     

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Guillen Just Can't Seem to Keep His Mouth Shut




          By Ross Newhan

          Inevitably, a loose cannon is going to misfire at times

         With the loose cannon that is Ozzie Guillen, it is constant misfiring. Freedom of speech is one thing, failing to display growth and learning from the misfires is another.

         After describing former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti in homophobic terms while he was managing the Chicago White Sox he was ordered into sensitivity training and bragged about not attending the classes, He frequently criticized management, got bolder after leading the White Sox to a World Series title and ultimately wore out his welcome.

         The Miami Marlins certainly knew what they were getting when they made his managerial hiring as much of a centerpiece to the opening of their beautiful new ballpark as the $106 million signing of Jose Reyes.The hope was that he would provide a leadership spark to an attractive lineup, but hope has again taken the form of a loose cannon with his quotes in Time magazine that he loves Fidel Castro.

        Could he have said anything worse in the heart of Little Havana where the Marlins new ballpark is located and many of the team's fans live and work after escaping Castro's dictatorial regime?

        Guillen, of course, has apologized and claimed that his meaning was lost in translation.
       
        It's hard to figure out what could have been lost in translation, and so Guillen has been suspended for five games.

       Fair enough, but history illustrates that Guillen can't be stifled. It was only a few weeks ago that he told South Florida reporters that all he usually does after night games is get drunk at the hotel bar.

       A five game suspension?

       You can be assured that Guillen will be heard from again. The man thinks he can say anything at anytime, and, as usual, it will be brainless and not very funny.

      X   X   X

     Magic's Percentage

     Multiple sources familiar with the situation but prevented from discussing it publicly insist that Magic Johnson's financial contribution to the new ownership of the Dodgers was a check for $1 million, a minor percentage of the $2.15 billion purchase by Guggenheim Partners. Despite all of the whoopla surrounding Magic, who will remain a visible frontman, the on-field success of the new ownership is in the hands of longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten, who will be the president, and Mark Walter, the principal money man.

     If baseball is concerned about Magic's shows of cordiality to former owner Frank McCourt--and McCourt's continued visibility--it is a disturbing reality stemming from McCourt being allowed to turn the parking lot into a separate entity and Guggenheim's willingness to accept McCourt as a partner in the possible future development of the lot.