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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's the Holidays: Credit Dipoto's Aggressiveness Amid Restrictions




      By Ross Newhan

      Caught between Arte Moreno's mandate to avoid the payroll luxury tax and the organization's unwillingness to lose a draft choice as compensation for signing a veteran and higher priced free agent, Angels general Jerry Dipoto addressed his rotation vacuum by pulling the trigger on his only real option.

       He traded his most dependable home run hitter, Mark Trumbo, to Arizona in a three team trade that netted a fourth starting pitcher and (potentially) a fifth.

       The acquisition of Hector Santiago, 25, from the Chicago White Sox and Tyler Skaggs, 22, from Arizona at the expense of Trumbo may intensify the gallows spotlight under which both Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia are now operating, the result of a miserable 2013 and absence of a playoff in Anaheim since '09, but the GM hasn't hesitated, moving quickly to fill a third base vacancy (David Freese), bolster his bullpen (Joe Smith and Fernando Salas) and--with Tuesday's trade--economicaly address gaping holes at the back end of the rotation.

         Southpaw Santiago will definitely be there--behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards--and southpaw Skaggs might be, but if the moves of a winter programmed to keep the club payroll under $189 million fail to click, the memory of Trumbo and Peter Bourgos is likely to weigh heavily on a fan base not adverse to expressing its opinion.

          The home grown Trumbo led the Angels in home runs in each of his three seasons. He hit 34 last season with 100 RBI, and his 95 homers since 2011 are tied for fourth most in the major leagues. However, in 1,718 at bats he has also resembled Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds, compiling (sort of)an on-base percentage of .299 with 465 strikeouts, including 184 in 2013.

          Primarily a first baseman and DH with the Angels, Trumbo will play a nervous left field with Arizona while possibly hitting 40 to 50 home runs given the cozier confines of Chase Field.

         The D-Backs were believed to be pursuing free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo before Trumbo became available. In facilitating the latter's acquisition, general manager Kevin Towers sent center fielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox for Santiago, who was then packaged with Skaggs, who alone would not have been enough to get Trumbo.

        "I liked the Angels part of it no matter how many home runs Trumbo hits," an American League scout told me. "Santiago can start or relieve, but as a full-time starter he can definitely win in double figures. He has a great changeup that makes his fastball better and he is really just getting his feet on the ground in the big leagues. I also still like Skaggs even though he lost his way some last year when his mechanics broke down and his velocity suffered. The Angels can fix that."

        Santiago, 4-9 with a 3.56 ERA and 26 next week, was one of four left handed starters in the Chicago rotation.  The Angels would have preferred Chris Sale, but the White Sox wouldn't budge, and Santiago's potential "isn't reflected by the stats," the AL scout said. "This was the first year that he began to start regularly, and I really believe he's going to get better."

        Skaggs was a first round draft choice of the Angels in 2009, then traded with Patrick Corbin to Arizona for Dan Haren. Dipoto was the DBacks assistant GM at the time, so he has now traded for Skaggs twice. The former Santa Monica High pitcher rode a shuttle between Reno and Phoenix in 2013, dominating Texas in his first 2013 start with Arizona before ultimately compiling a 5.12 ERA in 38 2/3 innings. If he becomes the No. 5 starter he would be the third left hander (Santiago and Wilson the other two), a potential plus in a division that has welcomed the left handed hitting Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano.

        Enthused about the acquisition of two starting pitchers 25 and younger, Dipoto said at the Florida meetings that he retains enough financial flexibility to continue arming his staff.

        However, he added, "I have no delusions about the difficulty replacing Trumbo's power."

        Clearly, weighing that slack, he is counting on an invigorated Freese, a better acclimated Josh Hamilton, an injury free Albert Pujols and the promise that Kole Calhoun, who will play left field, displayed in 194 at bats at the end of 2013.

        He knows his job may depend on it, but in keeping with the holiday spirit, give him credit for aggressively addressing his team's needs amid restrictions in payroll and personnel.

                             
              
   
                  

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cano and Mariners: Even the Answer Man Is Confounded





                 By Ross Newhan

                 So, on another bucks busting day in baseball, what do we, you and the psychiatrists make of the 10 year, $240 million agreement that has lured Robinson Cano--the top player in a free agent market that continues to go bananas--away from the New York Yankees in favor of the, yes, Seattle Mariners?

                 How do you leave a legacy of pin stripes for a franchise that has become a pin cushion, losing 91, 87, 95 and 101 games over the last four years and failing to reach the playoffs since 2001?

                 What prompts the Mariners to offer the third biggest contract in baseball history--with little of encouragement to say about those others--at a time when they have been struggling to build from within?

                 And why would the Yankees, with holes everywhere, allow a second base hit machine of 40 plus doubles, 25 plus homers and .900 OPS annually to get away?

                 Well, there is enough here to confuse even the most knowledgeable answer man, but it is safe to offer some assumptions.

                 --Money speaks, of course, and it didn't take Jay-Z's rap or the negotiating sklll of co-agent Brodie Van Wegenen to convince Cano that the Mariners were offering about $70 million and three years more than the Yankees, and Cano didn't need his agents to figure out that if the Yankees were going to offer a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate of their own only about $17 million more than they just gave Jacoby Ellsbury they really don't appreciate or respect him that much.      

                 --The Yankees will argue that (they have to) but then they are clearly determined to stay under the $189 million luxury tax thresehold and, having invested $153 million in Ellsbury and $85 million in catcher Brian McCann, they now re-bank Cano and have the flexibility to address an array of needs, possibly even pursuing Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka if he is posted. Brian Cashman started the process on  Friday by re-signing pitcher Hideki Kuroda while closing in on Omar Infante to fill the Cano vacuum and, it is believed, continuing a pursuit of either Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo.

              --Respect had to play into the Seattle equation as well. Attendance has dropped close to 1.5 million over the last six years, and the parade of clubhouse departures (Griffey, A-Rod, Big Unit, Beltre, for example) extends beyond that. Cano is 31. Mariner management obviously recognizes the long-term risk. Didn't the Angels give the same contract to Albert Pujols and have injuries claim him in Year 2? Didn't A-Rod leave for 10 years and a record $250 million only to have Texas dump the contract after three years, and now look at the mess the Yankees created with their 10 year extension.  No one in the Mariner front office was born yesterday, but here's another team flush with TV billions and looking to restore a measure of local faith and excitement, hoping that some of the prospects who have been looking more like suspects can turn it around and a) thinking Cano will help them land another free agent like Choo or Nelson Cruz and b) thinking they can now take two or three of those "prospects" and possibly trade them for a pitcher of David Price's stature.

             As it is, Cano is pretty much alone in a lineup lacking experienced protection (two Seattle veterans, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, are free agents), and there is no short portch for a left handed hitter in Safeco that there was in Yankee Stadium.

           As it is, he will be spending at least six months in the fickle weather of Seattle, more than seven hours from his native Dominican, and flying more than 50,000 miles a year with a team that logs more air time than any other. He is also rich (richer, actually) beyond measure, and those are facts beyond assumptions regarding an otherwise confounding bit of business that finds Cano giving his regards to Broadway and saying hello to....Pike's Market?
            

                                    
                      

               

                       

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ellsbury Opens Familiar Wound in Boston





        By Ross Newhan

        It would be natural to brand the New York Yankees' signing of Jacoby Ellsbury as "Johnny Damon 2.0" if it wasn't even bigger than simply another Boston center fielder moving to the Bronx, to the once (and future?) Evil Empire.

        On a torrid and relentless Tuesday that found twitter junkies having a difficult time keeping up and which saw Oakland's Billy Beane and Detroit's Dave Dombrowski continuing to stoke a blazing Hot Stove (with the winter meetings still several days away), the Yankees delivered the capstone-- temporary as it is in a winter market that closed only briefly over the holiday.

        In this case, if Red Sox Nation was becoming adjusted to the liklihood that agent Scott Boras would take 30 year old Ellsbury elsewhere, the seven year, $153 million agreement with the dreaded Yankees still had to represent a dagger coming eight years after Damon, then 32, left for New York and a four year, $52 million contact.

        Ellsbury, after all, had been the leadoff trigger in a Boston resurgence culminated by the World Series victory over St. Louis. He batted .298, stole a league leading 52 bases and now becomes the cornerstone of  an outfield rebuilding project that still finds the Yankees--determined as they are to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold and having already committed $85 million over five years to catcher Brian McCann--with enough financial resources and flexibility to pursue Shin Soo Choo and/or Carlos Beltran while also attempting to retain second baseman Robinson Cano.

        The Yankees and Cano are anywhere from $80 million to $100 million apart, and if anyone really believes the rumors about Jay-Z taking his clint to Seattle--well, anything may be possible in this inflationary and non-stop market--but that one would be too much for even the imaginative Boras and his use of a "mystery team" negotiating tool to try and sell.        

Friday, November 29, 2013

The 2014 Hall Ballot: Another Blessing





                     By Ross Newhan

                    Thanksgiving, or Thank Goodness?
                     Well, put is this way:

                   While the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot may fall far short of the many more personal and substantive reasons for giving thanks, it at least pushes the tiring residue of the steroid era largely into a secondary status behind a strong lineup of untainted players in their first and second year of eligibility.

                    Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro are still on the ballot, bringing with them the admissions, skepticism and documented proof of PED use.

                   But, unlike 2013, when Clemens, Bonds and Sosa were on the ballot for the first time, dominated December debate and, in the end, no one was elected in BBWAA voting, the Hall's 2014 induction ceremonies, coinciding with the museum's 75th anniversary, should, could and will include (my view and vote at least) more than one ballot winner.         
 
                   I mean, with Greg Maddux deservingly automatic in his ballot debut, fellow freshmen Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina also seem on the fringe of that automatic category, and I have never understood the philosophy of some voters in withholding their first ballot accredidation, as if the accomplishments of retired players are going to change over time.

                 Craig Biggio's haven't. He still has 3,060 career hits and was an All-Star at three different positions. Biggio received 68.2% of the 2013 vote in his first year on the ballot and certainly should eclipse the needed 75% this time.

                 Eligible Hall voters can select 10 players from a ballot of 36.

                 I have never reached 10, but 2014 could prove an exception.

                 Without being totally definitive at this point, there's Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Kent, Mussina, Biggio and my ongoing support of Mike Piazza, in his second year of eligibility, and Jack Morris, needing to jump from 67.7% in his 15th and last year of eligibility.

                 Then there's Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Curt Schilling percolating somewhere in my considerations, and among those PED boys, does the hammer continue to fall on Clemens with his seven Cy Young Awards, 354 wins and acquittal in the 2012 jury trial on all six counts of obstruction and lying to Congress in denying PED use. Clemens received 37.6% of the 2013 vote in his first year on the ballot and isn't going to jump to 75% in '14 no matter how many voters dismiss the syringe collection of his former strength coach, Brian McNamee, and damning insistance by former teammate and (former?) friend Andy Pettitte that Clemens told him he had used HGH.

                There ARE voters, of course, who contend that the BBWAA is not charged with the responsibility of serving as Morality Police, that Ty Cobb, Gaylord Perry and even the Babe, among others in the Hall, are illustrative that this is not an annual election on Sainthood. However, if the BBWAA does not accept its role as a custodian of the game in general and primary caretaker of the Hall, who will?

                For 2014, Thank Goodness AND Thanksgiving, the positive choices far outweigh the potentially negative, and there is also this:

               The 16 member Expansion Era Committee, composed of writers, owners/executives and former players, is expected to help fill the Cooperstown dais by voting in three former and acclaimed managers--Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox--while rejecting again (oh, those owners) the late Marvin Miller.                        

                               

                     

                                      
                       

Friday, November 22, 2013

Trading With St. Louis Risky Business





      By Ross Newhan

     Name a department (management and development in particular) and the St. Louis Cardinals are so respected in baseball that any club thinking of trading with them has to be leery about being had.

     I'm not saying the Angels were had Friday when they traded Peter Bourjos for David Freese (those were the two principals), but this much is certain:

    The Gold Glove caliber upside of center fielder Bourjos, at 26, is far beyond that of 30 year old third baseman Freese, who went backwards in every way last season.

    Of course, if Bourjos had played more than 55 games and wasn't coming off wrist surgery the Angels might have either 1) decided to keep him as their center fielder or 2) pried Shelby Miller or another young starting pitcher away from the talent rich Cardinals.

    So far in this baseball winter, for what the Angels are willing to give up (and with Bourjos' value having taken that injury marred hit in 2013), the Angels haven't been able to manufacture interest among the few teams possibly willing to deal a young starting pitcher.

    It's a complicated situation with which General Manager Jerry DiPoto is dealing.

    He won't trade Mike Trout, can't unload the contracts of either Josh Hamilton or Albert Pujols, and would prefer not to trade either Mark Trumbo or Howie Kendrick.

    In addition, with 10 roster players already guaranteed $126 million and another nine (including Freese) eligible for arbitration, and with Arte Moreno putting a payroll ceiling at the luxury tax level of $189 million, DiPoto has to take a bargain route in free agency, a pitching market that is thin and quickly getting thinner.

    The goal is to find two starting pitchers and rebuild the bullpen in front of closer Ernesto Frieri.  Initially, the Angels only needed one starting pitcher, but because of the dollar restraints they refused to go beyond a three year, $24 million offer to their own free agent, Jason Vargas, who got that fourth year and $32 million from Kansas City.

    So, with the pitching void taking on the appearance of an albatross, DiPoto opted to use Bourjos to fill a vacancy at third base.

   The National League champion Cardinals are delighted.

   They ended their postseason hoping to dump Freese, move Matt Carpenter from second base to third and put the young prospect, Kelton Wong, at second. They are also now in position to use Bourjos, assuming he is 100% and back to 2011 form when he stole 22 bases, led the league in triples and slugged .438, at any of the outfield positions, particularly center, where John Jay is no longer that entrenched.

   If the Cardinals are counting on Bourjos to rebound, the Angels are hoping the same for Freese, who was MVP of both the 2011 LCS and World Series and then slugged 20 homers and batted .293 in 2012 before opening last season on the disabled list with a back strain and slipping to nine homers and a .262 average while ranking 33rd defensively among major league third baseman.
 
   While Freese may or may not be in decline, he is a better choice than any of the internal options for the Angels, who will also be hoping that Kole Calhoun is ready for a fulltime outfield role with Trout staying in center fulltime.

    There were two other players in the trade and both may prove to be more than throw ins.

    Fernando Salas, 28, could fill a bullpen role with the Angels, and Randal Grichuk, 22, could in time join the St. Louis outfield.

   Grichuk was a first round selection of the Angels in 2009 (selected, in fact, ahead of Trout) and hit 22 homers in double A last season, a standout season in a thin minor league system.

    Clearly, there is more than one way in which time will be the determining factor in this trade, but the Angels have a historic knowledge of the inherent risk in dealing with the Cardinals.

    In March of 2000 outfielder Jim Edmonds, then in a comparable situation to Bourjos, went to St. Louis and won six consecutive Gold Gloves and played in two World Series.

    That time, at least, the package coming to Anaheim included Adam Kennedy, a seven year fixture at second base for the Angels and a key to their 2002 LCS (he was MVP) and World Series victories.

   That time, at least, there was an upside on both sides.

   
  
                 

      
    

    

               

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Texas Power Play Isn't Finished





             By Ross Newhan

             The one thing we knew for sure about this baseball winter was that the Texas Rangers would trade a middle infielder--Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler or the prized prospect, Jurickson Profar-- for either a front line pitcher of the David Price caliber or a left handed power hitter of the, well, Prince Fielder, stature. As it turned out, quickly and quietly, Kinsler has been traded for Fielder in what can be considered a power play on two levels: Power in that unique form of Fielder for the middle of the lineup and the first flexing of power by General Manager Jon Daniels now that he doesn't have to go through the "retired" Nolan Ryan at the top of the front office roster and has a Dallas supporter and friend, Ray Davis, in that role.

             Daniels/Davis and the Rangers seem certain to have more to come as they attempt to retake the West from the imaginative Billy Beane and his middle class Oakland A's and, (oh, yes) fans in Anaheim nervously wait for the Angels to improve pitching in the hope of resurfacing in the West.

             Although neither Fielder or Kinsler were at their best in 2013, the trade should help both the Rangers and Detroit Tigers in a variety of ways.

             Kinsler will play second base in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera, a liability at third, will carry his MVP Awards to first, replacing Fielder, and a touted rookie, Nick Castellanos, will play third.

             The Tigers had given Fielder a nine year, $214 million contract in a failed attempt to win a World Series for owner Mike Ilitch two years ago (they did reach the Series in 2012) and will send $30 million to the Rangers to help offset some of the $168 million that Fielder is still owed over the next seven years. But despite that $30 million, Detroit now will have the financial flexibility, if it chooses, to extend Max Scherzer and Cabrera while pursuing a free agent closer and another hitter to pick up some of the Fielder slack.

            Amid a public divorce last season Fielder hit only 25 homers, had a career low slugging percentage and failed to homer or drive in a run in 54 post-season at bats. Still, at a prime 29, he will now join Adrian Beltre in the middle of a lineup aching for left handed power in a park where left handers need only a sand wedge to reach the seats amid the prevailing breeze. In addition, amid the constant jibes at Fielder's physique, an overlooked fact is that he has missed only one game over the last five seasons and played 217 more games than the athletic Kinsler since 2006, although, admittedly, there is nothing to compare with the heat of a Texas summer.

           The departure of Kinsler opens up second for Profar, and, while the Fielder contract will cost the Rangers an annual average of $24 million over the next seven years, it is not expected to deter their immediate pursuit of a free agent catcher, outfielder and closer if free agent Joe Nathan, isn't retained--with the outside possibility they could even move another middle infielder with another of their middle infield prospects, Luis Sardinas, knocking on the door.  

           It's still the early weeks of a market that has seen the San Francisco Giants set some stunning pitching precedents with the $35 million retention of Tim Lincecum and $23 million signing of Tim Hudson, but one thing is clear: The Texas power play isn't finished.                

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mattingly and Dodgers at a Crossroads Needing to Be Resolved




            By ROSS NEWHAN

            Historically, and for many decades, the Dodgers never deviated from a policy of one year contracts for their managers.

            In another time and place, for instance, then owner Walter O'Malley reacted to Chuck Dressen's demands for a three year contract--Dressen had just led the Brooklyn Dodgers to 1952 and '53 National League pennants--by firing him and elevating his relatively unknown triple A manager, Walter Alston, to the major league post.

            For a period of 30 years, Alston and successor Tom Lasorda, their success measured by plaques in Cooperstown, received only one year contracts from the senior O'Malley and his son, a policy that ended when Peter O'Malley gave Lasorda a three year contract after the 1983 season.

            Several factors played into that change in policy, including Lasorda's success, the romance he was receiving from George Steinbrenner and other owners, and changes in the industry's economic structure with the introduction of free agency. Players were suddenly receiving more lucrative and multi-year contracts, making for a potentially difficult environment if the employees were guaranteed more security than the man at their helm.

             Now we find the club's current manager, Don Mattingly, with a contract for 2014 (his option  vested after the division series victory over Atlanta) and having made it blisteringly clear that he does not want to go through another season like this last one, when he was seemingly on trial, a one year audition for the new management.

            And now, too, we find the Dodgers having just fired Mattingly's friend and hand picked bench coach, Trey Hillman, in what could be construed as a direct response to Mattingly's remarks during a very awkward media conference on Monday.

              It's a crossroads that Mattingly and the Dodgers need to resolve amicably for the good of a fragile and, in certain places, aging roster that Mattingly--lest we forget--led to within two victories of a National League title amid injuries and the recurring distraction of his own job situation.

              The new management could have--and should have--recognized the potential for that distraction by picking up Mattingly's option before the season or, at least, during that 42-8 rampage of mid-season.

              It is what it is, however, and now:

             The Dodgers need to reward Mattingly with an extension through 2015 or '16, and Mattingly needs to step back, not overreact to the Hillman firing and recognize he could benefit by the hiring of a veteran bench coach who would challenge Mattingly in certain strategical situations, cases in which every manager needs more than a yes man at his side.

             It would also be wise for Mattingly to recognize that he has said enough.

           The festering broadsides he directed at management over his contract situation on Monday were so far out of character, his message delivered so clearly and sharply, any continuation would only damage the relationship beyond repair.

             Whether the timing of Hillman's firing (although rumored at different points during the season) was indeed a direct response to those remarks, a way for management to say it has heard enough or, perhaps, even an attempt to force the manager to resign without having to drop what could be an unpopular ax, isn't clear.

              This much is:

              At least for now, the Dodgers and Donnie Baseball need each other. The 2013 season was too much of a good thing for this to end in divorce.                                                  

                                 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blue Now, but Dodger Season Will Be Remembered as Rewarding






                    By ROSS NEWHAN

                    Yes, yes, yes!

                    The virtual loss of Hanley Ramirez in the first inning of the first game of the National League's Championship Series was a significant blow to the Dodgers.

                    I get it.

                    Perhaps--and perhaps not--it was comparable to the Cardinals' literal loss of Allen Craig and his 97 RBI for the entire series.

                   Just saying...

                   Also saying that when the hurt of the Game 6 embarrassment eases for the Dodgers they can look back on a  rewarding season.

                  --They recaptured a city--and its celebrities.

                  --They introduced a player in Yasiel Puig who, for all his much needed refinements, brought a passion and talent that helped ignite a historic, 42-8 rampage through the middle of the season, justified Logan White's $42 million investment and who now looms as a cornerstone.

                   --They ultimately ran away with a division title at the expense of the dreaded Giants and newly dreaded D-Backs.

                  --They beat the 96 win Atlanta Braves in the division series and came within two wins of their first World Series in 25 years.

                 Maybe anything short of a World Series, especially for a team with a record payroll of $216 million, shouldn't be remembered as a rewarding season, but there were also considerations that shouldn't be dismissed.

                 The status of Manager Don Mattingly was an ongoing distraction that the Dodgers should have dealt with before the season started instead of turning it into a six month trial.

                 There was the now-you-see them, not-you-don't status of Ramirez and Matt Kemp, turning Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker into regular players for long stretches.

                 There was a prolonged sorting out of the bullpen as Brandon League, with his freshly signed three year contract, failed in the closer role, the complete sorting out not finalized until Brian Wilson arrived without a razor in late summer.

              There was also the series of injury related trials at the back end of the bullpen. testing a farm system that was not, is not, ready for prime time.

             The point being that this was no payroll juiced glide into the post-season.

            It may take time, for players and fans alike, but the final hurt will heal and the realization that 2013 can be remembered in a rewarding context will emerge.

            Under the new, financially stable ownership, the Dodgers have taken a first step toward a rebuilt foundation that will not be totally in place until the farm system is rebuilt as well.

           Certainly, no one has to convince Stan Kasten.

          The Dodger president carries the blueprint he helped produce during his tenure as president of the division dominant Braves, a dominance built on scouting and development.                  

                                  

                                        

                          

                         

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Selig: A Clouded But Impressive Legacy




     By Ross Newhan


      Clouded by the steroid scandal, Bud Selig will still leave a remarkable legacy when he retires as commissioner in January of 2015

      Selig has set retirement dates in the past only to be talked into staying by his constituents, but at 79 his 2015 confirmation on Thursday seems as official as it can get.

      That legacy?

      Popularity, prosperity, parity and (labor) peace are the keywords, illiteratively speaking

      In 21 years since Selig was part of the group that forced out Fay Vincent and he initially became acting commissioner, baseball has set an array of attendance and revenue records, billion dollar TV contracts are common among the teams, the World Series has seen a variety of winners and, since the 1994 strike and Series cancellation, the game will have experienced 21 years devoid of a stoppage when the current bargaining agreement expires in 2016.

      Second in longevity only to the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Selig has initiated and served over a series of the most sweeping--and for the most part popular and/or beneficial-- changes in the game's history.

      Among them: revenue sharing among the teams; realignment; interleague play; a wild card and now two from each league in the playoffs; use of TV replays (which is certain to be expanded next year) and tying the All-Star Game winner to home field advantage in the World Series.

      The latter gives far too much credence to the winner of an exhibition game in which the teams are largely picked by the fans, but, well, what's one overreach in reaction to the 2002 All-Star tie?

      The haunting aspect of his legacy--and one he will have to confront in his planned memoir and as a possible instructor at the University of Wisconsin and one he is (and will be) reminded of with each Hall of Fame election for several more years--is the steroid spectre.

      In the aftermath of the Series cancellation, first riding Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak, the  industry's leadership then became lost in a blitzkreig of testosterone aided home runs.

      Slow to react, Selig would argue that he was confined to a bargaining situation with the players union. Both houses, in retrospect, were deserving of a plague, but the salvation--for Selig, for the union, for the game--is that baseball now has the toughest drug program in professional sports and a program that is likely to get tougher (with stronger penalties) after the next bargaining session.

     No commissioner is likely to see the chemists capitulate entirely.

    For Selig, the Biogenesis outbreak was a test of his investigative and enforcement staff  (13 players accepted their suspensions rather than fight the evidence) and now, with Alex Rodriguez's arbitration appeal beginning Monday, a slice of the commissioner's legacy is at stake in his 211 game suspension of the renowned A-Rod.

    Time, of course, will determine Selig's place in baseball's history, but from this vantage point he  has written an impressive chapter with 15 months to go.                      

                           
        
 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ichiro's 4,000 a Lot of Hits By Any Global Measure






          

                   By Ross Newhan

                   Ichiro Suzuki reported to work with the New York Yankees Wednesday needing one more hit for 4,000 in his professional career, and it doesn't matter that he won't be listed with Pete Rose and Ty Cobb as the only major league players to eclipse that total because 1,278 of those hits came with the Orix Blue Wave.

                  Nor does it matter if you remain skeptical about Japanese baseball despite the wave of quality imports.

                  Suzuki has been all that he was touted to be, a hit machine headed to the Hall of Fame--the one in Cooperstown, U.S.A.--and 4,000 represent an opportunity to recall a few accomplishments.

                  Like a .320 career average, two American League batting titles, 10 straight seasons of 200 or more hits, 10 straight All-Star appearances, a remarkable 262 hits with Seattle in 2004 to break George Sisler's 84 year old major league record (257) for the most in a single season and a U.S. total of 2,721 during 13 seasons with the Mariners and Yankees--a period in which he also displayed one of the strongest and most accurate throwing arms anywhere.

                   Suzuki is now a partime player at 39, but he still has rolled out 293 hits in the 280 games of the last two plus seasons, and he should reach 3,000, a Cooperstown milepost, if  he realizes a goal of playing two more years.

                  While posting fees for Asian players have skyrocketed, the Mariners paid a modest $13.12 million to Orix for the right to negotiate with Suzuki, who signed for three years at $14.088 million-- that, too, comparatively modest when weighed against the currently inflated market.

                 No one knew the Orix outfielder and knows Suzuki better than Jim Marshall, who played parts of seven seasons in the majors, managed the Oakland A's and Chicago Cubs, and now scouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

                Marshall also played for and managed the Blue Wave before serving as their international scout, a period in which he often dined twice a week with Suzuki.

               "At that time," Marshall said from his Arizona home, "I would say that the caliber of play in Japan was the equivalent of 4A--better than triple A here but lacking the depth of our big leagues.

              "However, I knew that when Ichiro finally got his opportunity to play here he would be a star. What I couldn't have predicted was that he would be a superstar. He hit every caliber of pitcher in Japan, and he has done the same in the big leagues."

              It is also worth noting when analyzing Suzuki's hit total that those 1,278 hits during seven full seasons with Orix came over schedules of 130, 135 games, compared to the 162 here. Clearly, he would be far beyond the 4,000 total had he played a career of 162 games per year.

             As it is, in addition to Rose, the alltime leader at 4,256, and Cobb, the only two other players credited with more than 4,000 hits as professionals are Stan Musial and Hank Aaron, whose totals were achieved at the major and minor league levels. If Japan was 4A and better than triple A during his career with the Blue Wave, Suzuki may ultimately fit somewhere on the hit ladder beneath Rose and Cobb and above Musial and Aaron.

           It is all speculation when factoring in those years in Japan, but Suzuki has definitely measured up as a Hall of Fame caliber player in the big leagues, and 4,000, by any measure, is certainly not bad for a guy who began his professional career as a pitcher.


                     

                                

                    

                      

Monday, August 19, 2013

A-Rod Situation: Zanier By The Day





      By Ross Newhan

      Neither Abner Doubleday nor Alexander Cartwright Jr., are believed to have invented baseball.

      I can't attest to the origin since I had other obligations in the mid-1800s.

      However, I have to believe that the constantly evolving Alex Rodriguez situation is one of the most bizarre (looniest?) in the history of the Grand Old Game.

      Not only is Rodriguez challenging his 211 game suspension through arbitration, but now we have the very flashy Joe Tacopina, the latest addition to A-Rod's regiment of lawyers and PR specialists, preparing a grievance against the New York Yankees for mishandling his medical treatment dating back to the 2012 post-season, withholding information, according to Tacopina, about a serious hip condition that forced Rodriguez to play hurt in the playoffs and ultimately required surgery, the new grievance also climaxing a series of accusations by Rodriguez about the way the Yankees have dealt with his physical situation.

      So, as the suspended and accusatory Rodriguez bats in the middle of the Yankee lineup and joins with Alphonso Soriano in helping rejuvinate a struggling offense and keep the team's division and wild card hopes alive, we have Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman branding Rodriguez a "liar" in regards to the medical charges and club President Randy Levine saying it is time for Rodriguez to formally "put up or shut up."

      "If he is going to file a grievance, that's great," Levine was quoted in the New York Times before Rodriguez himself acknowledged that the grievance process has begun

      "That will finally put all the medical issues to rest," Levine said. "And if he is willing, we will be happy to release his medical records to the public."

       The Yankees and MLB privately believe, of course, that the medical issue is simply designed as  a distraction to the real issue, as contained in MLB's statement at the time of A-Rod's  suspension, that he used numerous banned substances over multiple years. Nevertheless, whether a distraction or not, the charges and counter charges serve to create a strange dynamic when Rodriguez has a bat in his hands and Yankee management finds itself hoping the "liar" delivers.

      "These are unique times," Cashman acknowledges.

      How unique was demonstrated in another zany way Monday morning when Matt Lauer, host of the Today show, seemed to become a middle man for major league baseball, presenting Tacopina, during an interview on the show, with a letter from MLB offering to waive the confidentiality clause in the Joint Drug Agreement that would allow MLB and Tacopina/Rodriguez to speak freely about their respective evidence as it related to the suspension and A-Rod's alleged use of PEDs. Tacopina later rejected the offer, calling it a trap and publicity stunt, and choosing to present their case to the arbitrator rather than in a public airing. That arbitration could begin, in the form of initial briefs, in early September, according to multiple sources.
 
     How unique was also demonstrated Sunday night at Fenway Park when Rodriguez stepped in against Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster, who immediately took dead aim, twisting A-Rod away from the plate with a series of inside pitches before nailing him in the ribs.

    Dempster may have believed he was delivering a blow for all of those players who consider Rodriguez the latest poster boy for the drug cheats, but other than delighting a capacity crowd he raised questions about his own intelligence.

   With the Red Sox fighting to maintain their AL East lead he 1) risked a second inning ejection that would have thrown the bullpen into unheaval, 2) created a scenario that may lead to his suspension, and 3) found a way to bring the Yankees--if there were any doubts about where A-Rod's teammates stood--racing from the dugout in A-Rod's defense, with Manager Joe Girardi so heated over umpire Brian O'Nora's failure to eject Dempster (O'Nora merely warned both benches) that he was ejected himself.

    Rodriguez would later respond to the Boston pitcher by drilling a home run to dead center, the highlight of a 9-6 Yankee victory and another chapter in this weird and wearying story that finds the Yankees not knowing whether to cheer or Bronx Cheer, and MLB employing any media avenue (i.e. 60 Minutes, the Today show) to undercut Rodriguez, underscore its suspension justification and respond to a media blitz by Tacopina, a known street fighter in legal circles.


               

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Replays? Yes! Challenge System? No!




        

           By Ross Newhan

           I believe in the increased use of replays, as likely to be implemented in baseball next season.

           Another year of too many blown calls demands it, and, if you are going to use any available means--such as evidence buying and flipping a potential felon by threatening him with legal suits--to eliminate drug cheats and level the playing field, then it is time to broaden the use of replays in an attempt to eliminate umpiring mistakes.

           Those mistakes, as often acknowledged by umpires in post-game comments after reviewing replays, can ultimately cost a team millions of dollars in playoff compensation

           And technological advancements certainly make broader use more feasible.

           However, under the system proposed by a committee of Atlanta president John Schuerholz and former managers Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre, a manager would be limited to one challenge of a reviewable play (it isn't clear which plays will be reviewable beyond the current border calls on home runs) through six innings and two more through the end of the game. If a manager wins his challenge, he would retain the challenge, but the six inning challenge would not carry over.

         For baseball to recognize the need, reliability and improved speed in delivering replays at full speed, slow motion and stop action is a huge step, but I don't agree with the challenge system and I don't agree with a limit on challenges.

        Yes, the pace of games is important, and ultimately the time of games is as well, but getting it right should be the bottom line, and the time of games, when replays were introduced in the current and limited form, did not change appreciably.

        The proposed system would have a former umpire or a team of umpires reviewing plays and making the call on a secure line from New York.

        On reviewable plays--and, again, we don't know what those will be--a manager should have the right to seek a review without limit on those requests, and the official or officials in New York should have the right to overrule a decision on a reviewable play even if a manager does not seek a review.

       The challenge limit leaves in place the possibility that an umpiring mistake can still decide the outcome in those cases where a manager has already employed his three challenges.

       Of course, without knowing the full range of reviewable plays or the full authority of the review official or officials in New York, it is difficult to adequately address the concept.

      The issue of reviewable plays must be negotiated with the players union, and the overall concept will require approval of the umpires union, which is believed willing to accept an increase in the use of replay, most arbiters recognizing that if it helps them get it right, that if it helps reduce the number of prolonged, emotional arguments that often carry over, and that if it helps them avoid the possibility of  widespread firings stemming from the critical mistakes that too often have dotted the major league landscape in recent years, then, indeed, why wait until 11 before going to the film?    

                               

        

                             

Monday, August 5, 2013

A-Rod's Appeal: Certain to Be Ugly








               By Ross Newhan

               Yes, there is due process, a hallmark of the American judicial system.

               Yes, there is the grievance forum in which Alex Rodriguez will have the opportunity to overturn or, at least, have his 211 game suspension shortened, preserving millions of dollars.

               Make no mistake, however.

               This arbitration hearing will be unlike any in baseball history--perhaps unlike any in any court of appel ever, and this is why:

               For Rodriguez to win on any level he has to 1) tear down the administrators of the game he continues to insist he loves, 2) discredit Tony Bosch, the former director of the now closed Biogenesis clinic (and a man MLB flipped in its determined investigation), and 3) go after his employer, the New York Yankees, whose uniform he put on again on Monday, batting clean up on the very day that the Commissioner handed down the longest, non-gambling related suspension in baseball history.

             In other words, it's going to be a dirty, nasty business in which Rodriguez will have to prove his recent claim that there was a multi-faceted conspiracy against him, proving in the process that Bud Selig, devoid of a positive drug test, did not have authority under MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement.to suspend.him.

            There would seem to be no other avenue if Rodriguez is going to overcome the basic evidence, which includes, as Selig cited in a pointed statement and which multiple sources have confirmed to me on multiple occasions, that he tampered with that evidence, obstructed the investigations and used numerous forms of performance enhancing substances, including steroids, human growth hormone and testosterone, over a period of years.

            Rodriguez was given a chance to address the process and deny he used PEDs, beyond a short period with the Texas Rangers that he previously admitted to, during a news conference before the Yankees' game with the Chicago White Sox Monday night, but he refused that opportunity, giving a measure of credence to the belief that he will have to center his appeal on a conspiratorial concept, since the evidence is the evidence.

          It would have been so easy to simply deny that extended use of PEDs, to emphatically make that point whether true or not, but he skirted it, saying only that the last seven months, coming back from a second hip surgery at 38 and coping with the circumstances that finally manifested in the suspension, have been a nightmare and that, in returning to the field with the Yankees, he is looking forward to the opportunity to take a time out, a deep breath.

        Fat chance.

        Perhaps, at no time during the history of  a storied franchise will the Yankees have played a span of 52 regular season games that will be more scrutinized, their third baseman under a microscope that leaves no time for a deep breath.

        In all liklihood, in fact, the Rodriguez arbitration hearing won't begin until November, so we have a first: A player facing a 211 game suspension will have a chance to impact the pennant race.

       Asked if he thinks the Yankees really wanted him back and are happy he is back.

       "If I'm productive," he said, undoubtedly aware that his 647 homers and three MVP Awards will always be looked on skeptically, as will any productivity that ensues.

       For Rodriguez, it is a test in more ways than one, and for the commissioner, too. Selig, expected to retire at the end of next season, is determined to leave the legacy of a compatively clean sport after a fitful start in that direction.

       Toward that end, as well, the commissioner would have preferred to suspend Rodriguez for life.

       Selig clearly knew, however, that 211 had a better chance to survive a challenge, particularly once A-Rod and his battery of lawyers refused to accept a plea deal, as 12 other players linked to Biogenesis did on Monday, agreeing to 50 game suspensions in the wake of Ryan Braun having previously agreed to 65.

       Faced with evidence yet undisclosed, Braun and Monday's 12 chose not to fight.

       For A-Rod, amid the deceptions of a disintegrating career and reputation, an ugly fight has just begun.   


                                                               

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A-Rod: Where Did He Go?





            
                  By Ross Newhan

                  Who is Alex Rodriguez, and When Did He Disappear?

                  Those questions have resonated with me since I first met him in 1996.

                  He was 21 and in his first full season with the Seattle Mariners, who had made him the first player to be selected in the June draft of 1993, much to the consternation of the Dodgers, who had the second choice and selected Darren Dreifort.

                  Arguably the most touted, talented and baseball wise player ever to come out of high school (Miami's Westminster Christian), Rodriguez was all of that in '96, on his way to leading the American League in batting and doubles while hitting 36 home runs, driving in 123 and ultimately
finishing second in voting for the league's Most Valuable Player Award.

                  Thus, it was no surprise that the Los Angeles Times, my longtime employer, agreed with my recommendation that I fly to Seattle and prepare an in-depth story on the young shortstop.

                  It was early in that dazzling summer of his, and I made arrangements with his agent, Scott Boras, to let Rodriguez know I was coming and to set up a time to meet him in the clubhouse.

                  I have made similar arrangements dozens (hundreds?) of times while covering baseball for more than 50 years, but the player was not always at the time and place that had been established, and often, in fact, would plead ignorance of the appointment.

                  Rodriguez, however, was at his locker at the designated hour, and, after introducing myself, he asked, "can I get you a chair and a soft drink?"

                  I'm sure I had a stunned look on my face since no player had ever greeted me so solicitously, or would ever greet me so solicitously.

                  At the same time, I knew that Boras had arranged with the public relations specialist, Andrea Kirby, to work with Rodriguez from the time he first signed, and the lessons had obviously taken.

                 I would remember that greeting every time I chatted with or interviewed Rodriguez in subsequent years, every time I talked to a teammate about him, because I was never sure--and many of those teammates didn't seem to be either--whether I was talking to or about the real A-Rod or a PR creation.
               
               Those personal feelings were endorsed by former Yankee manager Joe Torre in his recent book, "The Yankee Years."

              Torre wrote that teammates and clubhouse attendants often referred to A-Rod as "A-Fraud," and that Rodriguez was too often unable to "concern himself with getting the job done" because he was distracted with "how it looks."               
            
             Now, of course, with the Yankees silent endorsement, the commissioner seems determined to make Rodriguez, whoever he is, disappear literally.

            He is expected to be suspended for life or, at least, multiple years that would likely terminate his career since he is 38 and coming off two hip operations.

            And I am left with a strange mix of emotions.

            Based on his admitted and alleged use of performance enhancing substances and all of the involved deceptions (and recent acts of desperation), the overriding reaction is to say good riddance.

            Yet, in trying to decipher what was real and what was not about the person, the player and his career of 647 home runs, 2,091 hits and three MVP Awards, there is a feeling of sadness related to the issue of what might have been.

             Instead of a living testimonial to all of the scouting reports, as he was in so many of those early years, instead of Cooperstown, he is about to join Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe in baseball confinement.                      
   
                         

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Angels: Problems of Personnel and Personalities







            By Ross Newhan

            In the shadow of the rampaging Dodgers, the other Los Angeles baseball team is dead in the American League West and miles from wild card contention.

            Amid obvious personnel issues and less apparent but also detrimental personality problems (see below), the Angels (with Albert Pujols probably out for the remainder of the season) would have to win 42 of their last 59 games to attain 90 victories, a likely minimum to make the playoffs.

             In what would be the fourth straight year devoid of October in Anaheim, 19 of the other 29 teams have a better record than the Angels, who trail Oakland by 13 games in the division despite a payroll more than twice that of the A's.

            Underachievement? Undoubtedly.

            However, it can also be argued that the Angels were set up to fail via the way owner Arte Moreno authorized the spending of his TV billions during the off-season.

            In fact, it is difficult to figure out what the club's overriding philosphy has been during a period in which Moreno has played a conflicting game of moneyball  (not to be confused with the A's brand) and the farm system has detiorated into one of baseball's worst, top prospects being used like so many poker chips in trades or draft compensation for free agent signings.

             It's a long, intertwining list of potential possibilities (no need to go over the failure to meet Matt Harvey's price when selected by the Angels out of high school in the third round of the 2007 June draft), young players who have fulfilled their promise elsewhere while the Angels have made head scratching decisions such as wasting millions on Gary Matthews Jr. and Vernon Wells while failing to sign game changers of the Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Mark Teixera (who probably wasn't going to be bought out of his desire to play in the east) caliber.

           That, of course, leads to the new TV contract and the 10 year, $240 million signing of Pujols, now 33,  and the five year, $125 million signing of Josh Hamilton, now 32, and, any way you want to analyze it, it's impossible to see anything but a long, slow slog through the life of those contracts.

           As a scout for an opposing American League team put it: "Pujols still has some thunder in his bat but you have to wonder if his foot injury is the start of an overall breakdown, and it's difficult to know what to make of Hamilton (.220, 15 homers, 43 RBI). He's continued the regression we saw in the second half of last year, generally hits only mistakes, is lost against left handers and hasn't played well at all in the outfield."

          Hamilton was signed in what appeared to be an over-reaction to the Dodgers signing of Zack Greinke after the Angels failed to retain the pitcher they had obtained from Milwaukee in mid-season of 2012, a trade in which they gave up their top prospect, infielder Jean Segura, who has become a  proven commodity at shortstop with the Brewers and one of the National League's top hitters

          With Greinke gone, the Angels needed to rebuild their rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, but the Hamilton money sent General Manager Jerry Dipoto into a secondary market for the likes of Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson, Jason Vargas and Sean Burnett, a group depleted by injuries and ineffectiveness. In a year that has seen the Angels break down in virtually every category of play, the limping Pujols, the laboring Hamilton and the inability of the middle to back end of the rotation to sustain momentum have symbolized that collapse.

          In addition, three people with inside knowledge and who I talked with individually, each cited an unsettling clubhouse atmosphere in which younger, star caliber players (Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, among them) have pursued a stronger voice and visibility only to be deterred by a veteran group that includes Pujols and Hamilton.

          Said one of the three people, all of whom requested anonymity because of their close relationship with the organization:

          "I think it would be overkill to call it a chasm, and I can't say it has consistently impacted performance, but I do think there is a generational gap, a question of style and the way things are done, that has been consistently difficult to manage."

         Seldom, of course, do the relationships or daily atmosphere in a baseball clubhouse reflect a perfect blend, but in a year when nothing else has been perfect in Anaheim, "the fact that players have at times left the clubhouse amid varying degrees of disagreement only to then attempt to perform at their best doesn't translate to a comfortable environment," the person quoted above said.

        Where the Angels head from here and what impact this disappointing (and dispiriting) season will have on Moreno as he weighs 1) the future of Manager Mike Scioscia (signed through 2017) and 2) the relationship between Scioscia and Dipoto, isn't clear, but this is:

        Three days away from the non-waiver trade deadline the Angels aren't expected to be a major player. They are burdened with too many big contracts to be a significant seller and--with the next payroll tax level in mind--they are too far out of the race to be a significant buyer.

     The disabling of Pujols at this juncture and the trading of Scott Downs was an admisstion, in fact,  that they have taken a realistic look at the standings.    
                 
        

                        

Monday, July 22, 2013

Braun Merely the First Domino






                    By Ross Newhan

                     The first domino in baseball's determined investigation into the distribution of banned substances through a Florida "wellness clinic" has now fallen.

                     The suspension of Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun for the rest of the season without pay is expected to be just the first of possibly a dozen or more suspensions, claiming, perhaps, Alex Rodriguez and Nelson Cruz, among others.

                    Braun, a former National League MVP, did not appeal his penalty for "violations of the Basic Agreement and its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," MLB said in a statement.

                    That drug program, considered the toughest in professional sports, and the sweeping investigation into the since closed Biogenesis clinic, may be seen as coming too late to benefit the sport's non-cheaters, many of whom paid a significant price statistically and financially, during the height of the Steroids Era, but that should not diminish the steps that MLB has since taken and now continues to take.

                  In a statement, Braun said: "As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."

                 Braun's suspension fell under the commissioner's power to discipline for "just cause" rather than a violation of the Joint Drug Agreement relating to failed drug tests. Braun's links to Biogenesis, established in the investigation, according to MLB sources, and the testimony of Anthony Bosch, a director of the clinic who has cooperated with MLB investigators in an attempt to escape possible legal ramifications.

               In Braun's case, MLB also considered his failed drug test in the 2011 post-season, which was overturned on an appeal relating to the chain of evidence protocols.

              It is unclear how many other players facing potential suspension because of the Biogenesis investigation will accept their penalty without appeal, as Braun has.

              According to MLB sources, Braun met with investigators on June 29 and failed to answer questions relating to the clinic. However, after weighing the depth of the evidence against him, the sources say Braun asked for a second meeting and opted to accept a deal that would limit his ban to the remainder of this season, a total of 65 games compared to the 50 game penalty for a first failed drug test.          

           MLB is expected to announce remaining suspensions all at once. 
                                         

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

All-Star Game? Who Cares? Bring on the MVP!




                      By Ross Newhan                      

                      It appears doubtful that Yasiel Puig will make the National League All-Star team.

                      Big deal.

                      He can go directly to NL MVP, a more significant accomplishment for Puig and the Dodgers, who have been in full flight since Puig arrived from double A with bat, glove, arm and a joie de vivre that has infected the entire roster.

                     Of course, what 22 year old wouldn't display a joy of life after finally making good on multiple attempts to shake off the restraints of his Cuban homeland, receive a seven year, $42 million contract from the Dodgers, drive to work in a new Mercedes and capture a national spotlight with some historic numbers through his first five-plus weeks, becoming only the second major player to sustain a .400 average through 100 at bats?

                   Make no mistake, Puig alone hasn't been responsible for the Dodgers awakening, for their five straight series victories (including the current series against division leading Arizona) and their 14 wins in the last 17 games, but it is his obvious spirit and tangible talent--more than anything--that has seemed to make believers of teammates previously struggling to believe while keeping the cash registers humming in the same merchandise shops where Manny was once king.

                 Put another way: In my 50 plus years of covering baseball it is difficult to remember a player arriving from the minors with the package of tools that have so dramatically turned around his team's season.

                Can the Dodgers maintain the run? Can Puig?

                Well, if they do and he does, if you project his eight home runs, 19 RBI and incredible 55 hits in 34 games over the remaining 73 games, if you believe the magic is real, an MVP Award is quite possible, and who will remember that he was sitting in his downtown apartment when they played the All-Star game?

                     

                                

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is Mattingly Done? The Clock Is Ticking--Unfortunately



 
      By Ross Newhan

      The late Al Campanis, during his tenure as general manager of the Dodgers, liked to say that you can't really gain a true measure of a team until it has played every other team in the league.

      Campanis was schooled by Branch Rickey, the Mahatma, who worked at a time when there were only 16 teams, eight in each league, and the American didn't play the National until the World Series.

      Now there are 30 teams, 15 in each league, meaning that two are engaged in an interleague series almost every night, no team is going to play all of the other 29, and Rickey--who also worked in a vastly different payroll era--would have to preach a different theory in relation to gaining a first true measure of your own team.

     What we know for sure in 2013 is that a quarter of the season has passed, and the Dodgers, with their $230 million payroll, are 18-25 amid increasing speculation that Don Mattingly could be fired as early as Thursday, when the team returns from Milwaukee for an off day.

    (While a Dodger executive said by email there are no plans for a Thursday firing he left it at that, failing to include any other day of the week.)

     Can Mattingly survive? Should he?

    Can the Dodgers survive a stumbling start to win what now appears to be a wide open divison?

    My answer to all of that is an intertwined yes:

    Mattingly can survive, should survive, and the Dodgers can rebound in the NL West, but sound reasoning in relation to the manager could yield to the impatience of an ownership that generated a record payroll after spending a record $2.1 billion to buy the team and another $100 million--to this point--on stadium renovations.

    The Guggenheim partners have no track record as a gauge to their thinking, but an ownership/management that refused to pick up Mattingly's 2014 option in the off season could simply decide that firing him now to eliminate all the distracting speculation is justification enough.

    Forget a bat rack full of facts that would generally suggest the manager deserves more time.

    For example: injuries have prevented Mattingly from starting his projected lineup even once; six starting pitchers have gone on the disabled list; the bullpen, anchored by a closer (Brandon League) to whom the Dodgers gave a three year contract based on the final month of 2012, has lost a league leading 13 games; the left side of the infield has been largely a revolving door, and with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier failing to produce anticipated power (which may be changing), the Dodgers have been among the NL's worst at hitting with runners in scoring position.

   How many times in how many other places have similar facts not mattered, and maybe my long fondness for Mattingly colors my thinking, my belief that he deserves an extended period with a full lineup, healthy rotation and a bullpen that needs to be sorted out.

   I recognize, beyond the facts, there is a perception held by many that Mattlingly is too much the nice guy, too much of a soft voice.

   I recognize as well that current third base coach Tim Wallach was deservedly in line when Joe Torre stepped down as manager and lobbied on behalf of Mattingly and their pin-striped relationship, lobbied to an owner who was beginning to spend more time in court than at the stadium.

  Yet, how many times in how many other places has change for the sake of change produced an initial impact only to fizzle out?

 Has the Guggenheim team made it's decision?

 Is it too late for Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to change it by doing to the Brewers what Clayton Kershaw did so masterfully in the Monday night opener.

 Too late for Kemp and Ethier to prove their home runs behind Kershaw were, at last, an awakening?

 The answer isn't clear, but the liklihood, unfortunately, is that the clock on Mattingly is definitely ticking.
                     

 

Is Mattingly Done? The Clock is Ticking--Unfortunately




 
      By Ross Newhan

      The late Al Campanis, during his tenure as general manager of the Dodgers, liked to say that you can't really gain a true measure of a team until it has played every other team in the league.

      Campanis was schooled by Branch Rickey, the Mahatma, who worked at a time when there were only 16 teams, eight in each league, and the American didn't play the National until the World Series.

      Now there are 30 teams, 15 in each league, meaning that two are engaged in an interleague series almost every night, no team is going to play all of the other 29, and Rickey--who also worked in a vastly different payroll era--would have to preach a different theory in relation to gaining a first true measure of your own team.

     What we know for sure in 2013 is that a quarter of the season has passed, and the Dodgers, with their $230 million payroll, are 18-25 amid increasing speculation that Don Mattingly could be fired as early as Thursday, when the team returns from Milwaukee for an off day.

    (While a Dodger executive said by email there are no plans for a Thursday firing he left it at that, failing to include any other day of the week.)

     Can Mattingly survive? Should he?

    Can the Dodgers survive a stumbling start to win what now appears to be a wide open divison?

    My answer to all of that is an intertwined yes:

    Mattingly can survive, should survive, and the Dodgers can rebound in the NL West, but sound reasoning in relation to the manager could yield to the impatience of an ownership that generated a record payroll after spending a record $2.1 billion to buy the team and another $100 million--to this point--on stadium renovations.

    The Guggenheim partners have no track record as a gauge to their thinking, but an ownership/management that refused to pick up Mattingly's 2014 option in the off season could simply decide that firing him now to eliminate all the distracting speculation is justification enough.

    Forget a bat rack full of facts that would generally suggest the manager deserves more time.

    For example: injuries have prevented Mattingly from starting his projected lineup even once; six starting pitchers have gone on the disabled list; the bullpen, anchored by a closer (Brandon League) to whom the Dodgers gave a three year contract based on the final month of 2012, has lost a league leading 13 games; the left side of the infield has been largely a revolving door, and with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier failing to produce anticipated power (which may be changing), the Dodgers have been among the NL's worst at hitting with runners in scoring position.

   How many times in how many other places have similar facts not mattered, and maybe my long fondness for Mattingly colors my thinking, my belief that he deserves an extended period with a full lineup, healthy rotation and a bullpen that needs to be sorted out.

   I recognize, beyond the facts, there is a perception held by many that Mattlingly is too much the nice guy, too much of a soft voice.

   I recognize as well that current third base coach Tim Wallach was deservedly in line when Joe Torre stepped down as manager and lobbied on behalf of Mattingly and their pin-striped relationship, lobbied to an owner who was beginning to spend more time in court than at the stadium.

  Yet, how many times in how many other places has change for the sake of change produced an initial impact only to fizzle out?

 Has the Guggenheim team made it's decision?

 Is it too late for Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to change it by doing to the Brewers what Clayton Kershaw did so masterfully in the Monday night opener.

 Too late for Kemp and Ethier to prove their home runs behind Kershaw were, at last, an awakening?

 The answer isn't clear, but the liklihood, unfortunately, is that the clock on Mattingly is definitely ticking.