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Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Wild Dodger Pace Amid A Slow Evolving Plan





      By Ross Newhan

       Ultimately, the goal of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi is to turn the Dodger roster younger and less expensive while retaining the competitiveness that the market demands--a noble goal that at this point is somewhere beyond anyone's rainbow. At this point, given the breadth, scope and pace of their current activity, it is impossible to predict what the roster will look like an hour from now, let alone when "younger and less expensive" will be fully implemented.

        As for competitiveness, the ability to retain and sustain the 94 win, division title level of 2014, that aspect is also incredibly hazy amid a roster turnover than in all liklihood is not finished.

        The new Dodger management team has made 11 trades in 26 days, some major and some minor, some merely stockpiling and some lineup impacting, some stand alone and some interrelated, and on Dec. 11 who knows what the lineup or 25 man roster will look like on April 6 when Los Angeles opens the 2015 season against San Diego.

        The fact that Matt Kemp will be in a Padre uniform rather than a Dodger uniform on that date helps exemplify the magnitude of the Friedman/Zaidi pace and plan, which may still include a trade for Cole Hamels or David Price or the signing of a free agent pitcher of the caliber of Max Scherzer or James Shields.

        Seldom has an often fickle fan base been fed so much off-season fodder, but whether the mid-season standings will match the excitement provided by a remodeled front office over the last few weeks--and last 24 hours in particular--is a very big question that only time will tell.

         Second baseman Dee Gordon has taken his 64 stolen bases to the leadoff position in Miami. Kemp and his resurgent bat (25 homers, 89 RBI) will be playing left field in San Diego. Dan Haren has departed the back of the Dodger rotation and will either join Gordon in Miami or retire, the Dodgers giving the Marlins  $10 million either way.

          On Dec. 11, a possible Dodger lineup looks like this:

          Jimmy Rollins, SS
          Carl Crawford, LF
          Yasiel Puig, RF
          Adrian Gonzalez, lB
          Jose Uribe, 3B
          Howie Kendrick, 2B
          Joc Pederson, CF
          Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis, C

           The absence of Kemp in that lineup represents a major power outtage, but the Dodgers will be saving  about $75 million of the $107 million he was owed over the next five years, defused the timebomb that was their congested outfield situation (at a time when there was limited trade interest in Crawford and Andre Eithier) and opened center field for the touted Pederson, who still has to prove himself but who many in the organization believed should have been starting last year.

           Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager and pitcher Julio Urias represent the Big Three of the Dodgers farm oriented rebuilding plan and all of them were and are ownership designated untouchables. Pederson now gets his chance while Seager, at 21, gets another year at triple A while the acquisition of Rollins for two minor leaguers provides a quality stopgap and veteran clubhouse presence at a critical position that Hanley Ramirez could no longer play. Rollins, the all-time Philadelphia hit leader, is 36 but stole 28 bases last year, hit 17 homers and, according to a wide array of scouts, satisfactorily retains his defensive skills.

          Rollins is in the last year of his contract, as is his new double play partner Kendrick, acquired from the Angels when the Dodgers made a quick flip of pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, obtained in the seven player trade with Miami. Kendrick, like Rollins, is a respected presence and a .292 career hitter during his eight years with the Angels. Conceivably, Seager will be the shortstop and the $28  million Alex Guerrero will be the second baseman in 2016, when Kendrick considers free agency and Rollins retirement.

           As it stands, with Kemp gone and Grandal representing only modest return, Pederson will be facing increased pressure, Puig will be trying to shake his second half struggle and Gonzalez and Uribe will be hoping to resist the ever present clock. Rollins,  Kendrick and Grandal may pick up some of the Kemp/Gordon slack, and the Dodgers retain a Big Three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jim Ryu at the top of a rotation augmented in the last 24 hours by the signing of free agent Brandon McCarthy to replace Haren. At 31, with a career record of 52-65, the Dodgers, counting on McCarthy's positive analytics and a 7-5, 2.89 ERA in 14 season-closing starts with the Yankees in 2014, may have over-paid at four years and $48 million, but overpaying is the nature of the free agent pitching game.

          Plus, despite that long-range goal of a less expensive payroll, the Dodgers still have the Guggenheim resources and an $8 billion TV contract in a $9 billion industry, and at their current pace the shadows of Hamels, Scherzer, Price and Shields are hard to ignore. There is still an opening in the Dodger rotation, a long way until opening day and no indication that the Friedman/Zaidi cell batteries are dead.

         Stay tuned is the only certainty on Dec. 11.                                

Monday, November 3, 2014

Trout: An Evolving MVP By Any Metric






   By Ross Newhan
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     It is impossible now to find a major league front office that doesn't devote space and study to analytics, the advanced metrics that annoy veteran scouts and often create internal debate and disagreement.

     Take the case of Mike Trout, who next week is expected to be named recipient (and deservedly so) of the American League's Most Valuable Player Award in voting by a committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

      Miguel Cabrera, the recipient in both 2012 and 2013, will not again leave the Angels center fielder in runner-up position.

    At 23, Trout has produced three full seasons of historic dimensions, compiling numbers matched only by an illustrious few.

    Batting second for a team that led the major leagues in wins last season, Trout led the AL in runs and RBI (111), matched his career high with 39 doubles and reached a career high in home runs (36).

    Strangely, however, even with his MVP progression and the wider recognition as the game's best player, Trout has been the subject of internet and talk show discourse regarding where he is as a hitter and where he is headed.

     In a web blog titled "The New and Not So Improved Mike Trout", on the sabermetric haven that is Fangraphs.com,  Tony Blengino writes that Trout became a power-before-hit guy in 2014 as opposed to a hit-before-power guy in his first two  seasons.

    Blengino suggests that Trout swapped outs for power, producing in the process a dramatic increase in pop ups and strikeouts--"free outs for pitchers."

      Some of the metrics can't be disputed. They are part of Trout's 2014 box score. For instance:

      As his average fell below .300 for the first time (to .287), Trout's strike out rate jumped from 19% to 26% and he led the AL in strike outs at 184 (compared to 136 in 2013). His pop up rate almost doubled, and the number of at bats ending in fly balls put him in the 90th percentile.

     That lower batting average and fewer ground balls resulted in his stolen base total dropping from 49 and 33 in his first two seasons to 16 this year.

      In addition, while batting a composite .262 in August and September before going 1 for 12 as Kansas City wiped out the Angels in the division series, no major league hitter saw more pitches--almost 40%-- that Fangraph describes as "high and hard."

      An obvious vulnerability?

      A conscious effort for power above all else?

      It's a matter of how the metrics are interpreted.

      "Look, we all have a tendency to pick things apart," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said from his Westlake Village home. "We win more games than any team in the major leagues and the only thing people remember is the series with Kansas City. Were we disappointed with that? Of course. Was it the way we wanted it to end? Certainly not.

       "With Mike, a couple categories weren't what people might expect but you have to look at the whole picture, and this guy is still the best offensive player in baseball, the best player. I mean, the thing we tried to do for Mike this year was put him in a position where he could hit with more guys on base, which is why we moved him (from leadoff) to No. 2 in the batting order, and I certainly think he responded."

      For Scioscia and his hitting coach, Don Baylor, it's all a matter of Trout evolving and pitchers adjusting. The name of the game in other words.

      "I saw the league change its approach more than Mike change his style or objective," Baylor, the 1979 MVP, said from his LaQuinta home. "Mike likes the ball down, likes to take the first pitch and go from there. Guys like (Don) Mattingly, (Rod) Carew and (Wade) Boggs were the same way but recognized that at times you have to be more aggressive.

     "Mike understands. He's young, still learning, and pitchers are going to try and exploit any possible weakness  Yes, he was worked high and hard, but he also saw breaking balls away, fastballs and cutters in, and with all that he had an MVP season and recognizes that the main thing now is to whittle down the strikeouts, put the ball in play, put pressure on the defense with his speed. Nothing good happens on a strike out except for giving the bat boy more work."
              
     Added Scioscia: "For anyone to suggest that Mike was trying to force anything or that he changed anything in his style or approach I strongly disagree. I mean, people tend to look past the fact that he's still a very young hitter who is going to continue making little adjustments that any hitter will as they gain experience and evolve into the type hitter they are going to be long-term. He certainly has the power to hit that many home runs again and he certainly has the ability to hit .310 and .320. And, as he continues to evolve and gain the experience that all hitters need, I think you'll see the strike outs shrink and the situational component improve."

       Situational component? Is there really a need to throw up a defense for a player of Trout's caliber?

       What 23 year old in any endeavor isn't evolving?

       And given Trout's three year production it seems realistic to think, as Scioscia and Baylor believe, that an adjustment here and there and a little more aggressiveness early in the count should help restore his batting average and turn some of those pop ups and fly balls into line drives and ground balls, benefitting his speed.

      The bottom line, perhaps, is that for all of those often indecipherable metrics (WAR, OPS,  BABIP), Trout is about to emerge with an acronym that tells a more complete story: MVP.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

TRUST AND NO TRUST






     By ROSS NEWHAN

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

BY THE WAY

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014




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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bud/Jerry Split? It May Portend Labor Battle






                By Ross Newhan

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

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

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

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

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

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

                The alternatives:

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

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

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

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

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

                       

                 

                                                              

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't Blame Wainwright







      By Ross Newhan

      I'll join the chorus:

     Adam Wainwright did nothing wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

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





              By Ross Newhan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

             
                         

                         

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lucroy and Trout First Half MVPs







                     By Ross Newhan

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

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

                                                           MVP

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

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

                                                      CY YOUNG

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

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

                                                 ROOKIES OF THE YEAR

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

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

                                               
                                               ALL-STAR STARTERS
                                         (Based on first half performance)

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

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

                         

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

That Strange Dodger Vacuum





       By ROSS NEWHAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

               

                                         

Monday, June 16, 2014

Remembering a Singular Hitter and Personality






                   By ROSS NEWHAN

                   Every time I gaze at a major league infield I see the 5.5 hole that Tony Gwynn patent.

                   Every time I think back to the cramped San Diego clubhouse at Qualcomm Stadium I see Gwynn at his corner locker in non-stop conversation with one reporter or, perhaps, twenty reporters. The number didn't matter nor the subject.

                    Throw out a question and Gwynn took it and ran--as much a singular personality as he was a singular hitter.

                     As much San Diego as Derek Jeter is New York.

                      His parents talked loyalty and Gwynn listened---20 years with the Padres when, on more than    one occasion, he could have left and earned more.

                       As a baseball writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times I watched Gwynn from the press box, visited him in the clubhouse, during all of those 20 years and never tired of his inventiveness from the batter's box, his joy talking about it.

                      I am not now at the keyboard to break news. Tony Gwynn died Monday at 54.
                   
                     His weakening condition from the cancer was well known. Yet, there is no way to prepare.

                     Gwynn dead at 54? Bob Welch at 57?

                     How fortunate I feel to have covered them both, known them both. The one, Welch, a laconic pro. The other, Gwynn, more gregarious, sometimes annoying a teammate or two with that non-stop talking or the sense that there were more runs to be batted in if he was willing to yield in his approach..

                     My son, David, was a teammate, sharing a lineup card on occasion in his first season in the big leagues.

                     "I wouldn't say he took me under his wing," David said after hearing of Gwynn's death, "but he treated me fine, and it was definitely an experience watching him hit.

                     "My biggest memory is watching him go seven for eight one day in St. Louis and seeing those great fans there give him a standing ovation. I mean, it was more than 5.5. It was foul line to foul line. Pretty remarkable."

                     Gwynn had 3,141 hits, a career average of .338.

                     If his body wasn't that of a svelte athlete, he stole 319 bases, won five Gold Gloves, and he helped pioneer the use of video---but only watching his positive performances and never the negative.

                    Of course, how many negatives are there in any Hall of Fame career?

                    And how does anyone compare hitters over more than a hundred years of the sport?

                    I only know what I saw, and Gwynn belonged among the best--and not strictly in the style of a Boggs or Ichiro.

                   I will miss him, have missed him, both on and off the field.

      

                                           

                                           
                         
                   

                         

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pujols: An Untarnished Milestone





                


             By ROSS NEWHAN

             The introduction of the designated hitter, extending many careers, and the widespread abuse of performance enhancing drugs, tainting many, has bit into the impact of the long coveted 3,000 hit and 500 home run plateaus.

             However, in the case of Albert Pujols, still primarily a first baseman at 34 and exempt from PED implication except for Jack Clark's legally challenged hearsay accusation (costing Clark his radio job), 500 homers are 500 homers, an honorable accomplishment that alone should secure first ballot election to the Hall of Fame except for the fact there is no longer any certainty to a process that needs restructuring.

            Pujols, of course, has an array of other Hall worthy statistics going for him, and if the first month of his third season with the Angels is an indication, rebounding from the heel injury of last year and with seven more seasons remaining on his $240 million contract, he is likely to scale other heights.

           For one, that other magic number of 3,000 hits is easily within contract reach, and he is going to continue up the home run ladder, possibly even passing Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron at the top if remaining reasonably healthy.
 
           At 26th, he is the third youngest to reach 500 behind the tarnished Alex Rodriguez and the very honorable Jimmie Foxx.

          With a major league leading eight homers in 20 games (plus 19 RBI) he is on an improbable pace for 64 and 152.  If he goes on to hit a more reasonable 40 this year he will rank 16th on the all-time list. If he averages 30 over the ensuing season seasons he will be at 750 and trailing only the injected Bonds at 762 and Aaron at 755. If he averages 32 for the seven seasons he will pass both.

           As it is, he should join Babe Ruth, Foxx and the PED scarred Manny Ramirez this year as the only players with 12 seasons of 30 homers and 100 RBI, with only A-Rod having more at 14.

           I have made the point previously that with better decisions and investments over the last six or seven years--retaining Mike Napoli, signing Adrian Beltre, rejecting Gary Mitchell Jr. and Vernon Wells, going the distance to keep Zack Greinke after giving up top prospect Jean Segura to get him-- the Angels could have avoided the potentially wallet strapping commitment to Pujols at 31 and the ensuing, $125 million deal with Josh Hamilton at 31.

           The Pujols and Hamilton expenditures certainly played a role in the off-season decision by Arte Moreno to draw a payroll line at the luxury tax threshold of $179 and not spend big on much needed pitching.

           That withdrawl could prove costly. Three-fifths of the rotation is unproven, and the Angel staff is dangerously thin with little in minor league reserve.

          Can Pujols maintain his April shower of hits and homers? Can Hamilton regain his pre-injury stroke? Both questions would seem to require a positive response if the Angels are going to end their four year playoff drought in a strengthened West Division.

          Tomorrow is tomorrow, however, and the moment belongs to Pujols and his milestone accomplishment in a milestone career.                   

          X

         A Happy 100th Birthday today to Wrigley Field. Always a happy stop for a former beat guy.                                       

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Puig Story and Damning Thoughts






         By Ross Newhan

         The story of Yasiel Puig's harrowing defection from Cuba, as reported comprehensively by Jesse Katz in Los Angeles Magazine, and in an upcoming version by ESPN The Magazine, leaves me to wonder how this incredible narrative escaped the hometown Los Angeles Times.

          Since Puig burst onto the L.A. and major league scene last year there hasn't been a more compelling figure. The Times? There were stories dealing with the desperate, deadline impacted drive by Dodger scouting director Logan White to get Puig signed as a free agent in Mexico, but the reporting otherwise was consistently vague---Puig "not wanting to talk about his defection" and "not much being known about it."

           I do not indict national baseball writer Bill Shaikin or beat writers Dylan Hernandez and Mike DiGiovanna. They had other obligations. It was up to the editors, to the publisher, to recognize the possibilities--Puig's overnight magnitude and the mysteries surrounding his arrival--and provide a team of reporters the time and resources to get the story, as so often happened in an era of deeper finances and staffing, and which now seems to surface only infrequently.

           Sadly, a compelling story was there for the taking, but The Times could only react on a second day basis--and then somewhat hyperbolically.

           Aside from my provincially based response as a former Times baseball writer of more than 40 years, I acknowledge there is a more damning and important element to the Puig story.

           In providing a financial beacon at the end of a very dark tunnel for Cuban players, and creating rules/regulations that at conspicuous times seem to disappear, MLB--and the U.S. government--play a direct role in the very dangerous and widespread business of human trafficking.

           As Katz wrote:

           ..."Under Major League Baseball's byzantine rules and the U.S. Treasury Department's outdated restrictions, the only way for a Cuban ballplayer to become a free agent--and score a fat contract--is to first establish residency in a third country. That detour is a fiction, winked at from all sides, and one that gives traffickers command over the middle crossing. The five men piloting Puig's vessel, mostly Cuban Americans, belonged to a smuggling ring whose interests ranged from human cargo to bootleg yachts to bricks of cocaine. At least two were fugitives--one, on the run from a federal indictment in Miami, was alleged to have extorted Cubans traveling this very route. They were all in the pocket of Los Zetas, the murderous Mexican drug cartel, which charged the smugglers a "right of passage" to use Isla Mujeres as a base."

          The Puig journey, as reported by Katz, was "underwritten by a small-time crook in Miami named Raul Pacheco, an air-conditioning repairman and recycler who was on probation for attempted burglary and possession of a fake ID."

          There were 24 Cuban players on the 40 man rosters of major league teams at the start of the current season. Not all traveled a route as dangerous as Puig--or continue to face the financial and, possibly physical, threats that he reportedly does--but the majority were exposed to middle men of a suspect nature and had to establish that "third country residency" while voracious U.S. player agents waited to get a piece of them.

         MLB knows what is going on. The Treasury Dept. knows what is going on. Puig's desperation drove him toward Eden.

        They are all partners in a trafficking business that, for the Dodger outfielder and, perhaps, other former countrymen, may continue to exact a toll.
     
 

                

                          

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Re-Opening Day Thoughts







        By Ross Newhan

        Opening Day Mind Benders:

        --MLB needs to get back to a traditional opener, whether it's Presidential in D.C. or a day or night opener in Cincinnati. I get spreading the game internationally, but that doesn't need to include  league games in Australia or Japan or anywhere else, games that are played with probably 90% of baseball fans paying no attention and which are followed, for the two participating teams, by two or three games that DON'T count before they reopen the season with games that DO. How does that make sense? Also, there's this: While the two participating teams get a few days to recover from the jet lag, those 17 hours take a toll. Whether that toll played a role in Clayton Kershaw opening the season (oh, that's right, the Dodgers already opened the season) on the disabled list is uncertain, but I know how this 76 year old athlete felt returning from Africa last summer.

      --While Mike Trout's six year, $144.5 million extension fits the security and business needs of player and team, the 10 year, $292 million contract that the Tigers gave Miguel Cabrera is another high wire risk of the Albert Pujols variety considering Cabrera will be 41 in the final year, Cabrera, like Pujols, has already established himself as one of the best right handed hitters (a shrinking commodity in today's game) ever with a chance to advance among the elites, but the chance is also there that he could be done in mid-contract. The Tigers unloaded another large contract and larger body by trading Prince Fielder to Texas, but economists and skeptics (who are those people?) will be watching to see how the Cabrera deal plays out.

     --The Tigers announced Cabrera only a couple days after releasing a sharply worded statement revealing that Max Scherzer, their Cy Young Award winner, had rejected a longterm contract that would have made him one of baseball's highest salaried pitchers and that there would be no more negotiations until the season is over. The offer was believed to be for six years with an average annual value of more than $24 million. Agent Scott Boras quickly announced that it was the Tigers who had rejected the proposal but that the club was right in saying there would be no additional talks until the season ended. Typically, Boras does not like clients in their walk years to sign extentions before testing free agency (and with Scherzer there is a chance he could eclipse the Kerhaw contract record for pitchers), but no matter who did the rejecting, any pitcher who puts shoulder and elbow on the line with every start would seem foolish in not jumping at an AAV of $24 million.

   --As the cost of your cable contracts continue to rise, major league teams have spent in the neighborhood of one billion dollars (I thought it best to spell that out) since the end of last season on extensions and free agent signings, a measure of baseball's TV bankroll. In some ways it's a case of TV robbing Peter (you) to pay Paul (the 30 owners), and, yes, there is still no deal between Time-Warner and the major cable providers, leaving most Dodger fans in the SoCal dark after ESPN's converage of tonight's semi-opener with the Padres.

   --MLB and the players union should be applauded for not waiting until the current bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season before toughening the Joint Drug Agreement in several ways (stronger penalties, more tests, disallowing suspended players from participating in the post-season). However, 22 years of labor peace could still be threatened in the post '16 negotiations.The union alone wants to a) remove some of the current limitations on what clubs can spend in the June amateur draft under management's slotting system, b) seek changes in how clubs use the arbitration and free agency clock to delay advancement by deserving young players and c) spell out and streamline exactly what investigative tactics MLB can use in potential drug or other cases, a reaction to what the union--and many legal experts--believed to be the league's over the top tactics in the Alex Rodriguez investigation.

    --So, as the season opens for a second time, and I remain perplexed as to why, with so much already invested (i.e. Pujols and Josh Hamilton) and about to invested (i.e.Trout), would Arte Moreno choose this offseason to put a luxury tax limit on his Angel payroll and leave his starting pitching so vulnerable from a quality and depth standpoint, here is how I see it:

                                                               NATIONAL LEAGUE

                 Division Winners: Dodgers, Cardinals, Nationals. Wild Cards: Reds, D-Backs.  Champion: Cardinals.                  

                                                               AMERICAN LEAGUE

                 Division Winners: A's, Tigers, Rays. Wild Cards: Royals, Red Sox. Champion: Rays.

                                                               WORLD SERIES

                World Series: Cardinals over Rays in six.

                                                                                                               

Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering an All-Star Friend






              By Ross Newhan

              I met Jim Fregosi in that first Palm Springs camp in the first year of the American League's newly created Los Angeles Angels.

              He was 19, a shortstop selected out of the Boston Red Sox organization in baseball's first ever expansion draft. I was 24, on my first beat assignment for the Long Beach Independent, Press Telegram, and in over my head--unlike Fregosi, who would make his big league debut in September  and become the Angels fulltime shortstop in 1963 at 21.

              No surprise to Manager Bill Rigney, who would brag about him from the first day of that first spring, often telling the story of how longtime San Francisco Giants' scout and executive Tom (Clancy) Sheehan had come to him soon after that draft and scoffed, "Hell, Rig, you can find a player like him under every rock in Arizona."

              Rig knew differently, of course, and so did and does most every scout who keeps turning over rocks in Arizona and elsewhere, looking for players of Fregosi's young skills and, if they look hard enough, perhaps, the inate traits that would quickly enable him to become a leader on and off the field, the full blown personality that was on display for 54 years as player, manager, scout.

              Jim died Friday morning at 71 after suffering multiple strokes while on a cruise with his wife, Joni, and other MLB alums.

              I hope it is not corny, on this Valentine's Day, to say that he lived his baseball and family life with a big heart, and I am saddened (how trite is that?) to think I will not be bumping into him in Anaheim and other ballparks, no longer exchanging phone calls, often just to say hello or listen to his latest story.

            He was good at that, telling stories from a vast storehouse, and enjoyed interacting with the baseball scribes, his and my early years being a different time in the game, fewer microphones and cameras, no cell phones and internet, an easier breeding ground for trust between players and the men who covered them.

           For Fregosi and teammates on those early and often zany Angels there was no pressure to rush from the clubhouse after the game. I would frequently finish my story on deadline and still find Fregosi and Joe Adcock and Lou Burdette and Buck Rodgers talking ball in the clubhouse, joining them for a beer there or at a bar--the House of Serfas at Stocker and LaBrea during the L.A. years or at Adamo's in Anaheim after the move.

          One night at Adamo's I introduced him to a girl I was dating, the young Connie Fisher, and the next night at the park Jim pulled me aside and said, "if you're smart and know what you're doing you better marry her."

         Connie Fisher and I have been married for 46 years, and that's how good a scout he was even then, long before he spent the last 17 years on special assignments for Atlanta general managers John Schuerholz and Frank Wren.

         In fact, Jim would be a groomsman in our wedding, what would undoubtedly be considered crossing a line in the player/writer relationship now but not so much then, and he loved to relate how we had a cocktail party BEFORE the ceremony and how the late columnist, Bud Tucker, assigned to light candles down one side of the temple aisle and a bit tipsy, found the task overwhelming as he (Fregosi) waited patiently on the other side for Bud to catch up.

        A different time for sure, and while those personal touches will linger longest, I will always carry visions of the six-time All-Star shortstop who would team with Gold Glove second baseman Bobby Knoop from 1964-'68 to form one of the best double play combinations I have ever seen.

        "They were as good as there was and probably as good as there has been," recalled a saddened Buck Rodgers, the young catcher who also came out of the expansion draft, by phone Friday.

       "Bobby was pure gold defensively, and Jimmy, while probably recognized more for his offense, wasn't far behind defensively."

       For both Rodgers and Fregosi there was more groundwork to their time with the Angels than what happened on the field.

       "Rig told us often that we each had a chance to manage," Rodgers said, "and he made it a point to explain the intricacies and technicalities of the things he did, why he handled some player differently from others. He was great with us, whether it was sharing time on the plane, in the clubhouse or over coffee on the road."

      Rodgers would enjoy managing success in Milwaukee and Montreal before a disillusioning tenure at the helm of the Angels during one of the many periods in which it was difficult to tell in which direction the organization was heading.

      Fregosi, traded in 1971 to the Mets for four players, including Nolan Ryan ('my biggest contribution in Anaheim," he was fond of saying), would return as well, hired off Pittsburgh's active roster in 1978 to be the Angels manager in what was portrayed as the return of the prodigal, having long been portrayed as one of owner Gene Autry's favorites.

     It was a charmed move and looked to be the start of a renewed and lasting relationship when Fregosi led led the Angels to their first division title in 1979.

     But, as always, there would be no guarantees under the Cowboy's ownership. Autry and a revolving cast of general managers had gone through seven previous managers in the '70s alone, and then, in two huge mistakes:

   Ryan was allowed to leave as a free agent before the champagne had dried following the '79 playoff loss to Baltimore, and Carney Lansford (arguably the best position player produced by the franchise to that point) was traded after the 1980 season. The Angels spiraled backwards, leading to Fregosi's firing in mid-season of strike ravaged 1981.

        Gene Mauch took over, and Fregosi blasted Autry privately.

        "Prodigal my ass," he told me. "They brought me back as a 36 year old man and treated me as if I was still 19. I'll never work for them again."

        He would manage again, leading Philadelphia to 97 wins and a National League pennant in 1993 before ending his managerial career with Toronto in 2000 after finally deciding that enough time had past, enough bitterness in regard to his relationship with the Angels had been swallowed.

       He returned in 1998 to have his No. 11 retired and be inducted into the club's Hall of Fame.

       And the last time I saw Jim was in the Anaheim press box in 2012. I was working on a freelance story and he was on an assignment for the Braves.

      We took a minute before the game to have a cup of coffee together, and he said, wistfully almost  for a man whose voice usually boomed and whose passion was as large, "I don't think anyone will have as much fun as we did in those early years. It was just another time, and I'm glad I had a chance to experience it."

       Me, too. RIP, Jim Fregosi.                                      

                                                         
         

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

And Now: How Good Is Tanaka Really? How Good Are the Yankees Really?





                 By Ross Newhan

                 The pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka was ultimately ruled by desperation, prompting the Yankees to blow out the limited competition, blow over the tax threshold that had been their oft-stated, off-season cap and blow fuel on the festering antagonism between the smaller and larger markets.

                 Having already invested heavily in the attempt to reestablish their AL East swagger, the Yankees simply had the biggest combination of rotation need and available resources (augmented by the A-Rod savings).

               At 25, coming off that 24-0 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka was clearly the most attractive and intriguing proposition among remaining free agent pitchers, and the Yankees bit for far more than either the Dodgers or Chicago Cubs were believed willing to spend, though Tanaka may have coveted New York from the start.

               The bottom line of $155 million for seven years (Tanaka has an out after four) and another $20 million to cover the posting fee for a pitcher who has yet to start a game in the major leagues tends to make the seven year, $215 million agreement that the Dodgers reached with their two time Cy Young award winner, Clayton Kershaw, look like a bargain, and the Dodgers--who have seldom if never been outbid under the Guggenheim ownership--didn't come within $55 million of the Yankee offer, sources insist.

              With a front three of Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu (with Dan Haren and Josh Beckett possibly in the fourth and fifth spots) and contract work beginning on Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers need for another $20 million a year starting pitcher didn't match the Yankees eagerness to add a mid- to top of the rotation arm to C.C. Sabathia, Hideki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and possibly David Phelps.

            The restructured posting process, lowering the fee for any club to negotiate with Tanaka to $20 million, was expected to create a wide open market, and while Houston and Seattle are known to have investigated, among possibly other smaller market teams, it is believed that only the biggest of the big, the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs, were involved toward the end, with long suffering Cub fans absorbing another dose of false hope after trying to tell themselves there was a chance.

            In an offseason that has seen major league clubs commit approximately $1.8 billion on the signing of free agents, the Yankees--with Tanaka parlayed to Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Kuroda among some smaller signings, have guaranteed more than $460 million. They have rebuilt the outfield, strengthened their catching, filled gaps in their rotation and, at this point, are free of the Alex Rodriguez distraction. Yet, with all of that, somebody has to replace Mariano Rivera, and the infield could be a day to day proposition with Derek Jeter, 39 and Mark Teixeira, 33, no sure things as they come off injuries, and both second and third base problematic.

           If the Yankees, with all of their spending and acquisitions, remain a question, so is Tanaka, of course. Despite glittering statistics, he has put in a lot of work at a young age. As pointed out by ESPN's Jayson Stark, only three major league pitchers in the last 50 years--Frank Tanana, Larry Dierker and Bert Blyleven--had thrown as many innings (1,315) as Tanaka by 24. However, no Asian pitcher, including Yu Darvish and Ryu, has arrived amid as much fanfare and scout praise.

          His agreement with the Yankees should also finally unlock the market for free agent pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo, among others. Several potential buyers were either involved with Tanaka or chose to wait out that side of the market. Only Garza, in that group, comes without draft compensation, making him more attractive to a club like the Angels, who are determined to stay under the tax threshold and avoid giving up a draft pick. The Angels only kicked the tires on Tanaka despite the need, their billion dollar-plus TV contract and the sense that,  with no certainty of a longrange payback on their big money investments in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, they have to make a run now in a vastly improved division that has seen them fall short of the playoffs for four years.

         Financial times have changed in Anaheim, and while several smaller market teams, including Oakland, Minnesota, Houston, Seattle and Kansas City, were active in the free agent inflation of the winter, there is also considerable unrest among the smaller markets involving a widening revenue gap with the big markets and the perceived need for changes in the overall financial process. Twenty one years of labor peace could be at stake when the current bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season.

                   

                            

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

If Best Pitcher Gets Record Contract What About Best Player?







                    By Ross Newhan

                    If baseball's best pitcher is going to receive almost $31 million a year for the next seven, what does the best player receive?

                    The Angels may have to dig deeper into that question as it relates to Mike Trout after the Dodgers reached a record $215 million contract with Clayton Kershaw.

                    The latter is 25 and the former is 22, and there is a difference beyond age, of course,  between two of SoCal's and baseball's brightest stars.

                   Kershaw has pitched more than 1,000 major league innings and was two days away from salary arbitration and a year away from free agency when he and the Dodgers agreed.

                   Trout has achieved his generally recognized stature as MLB's best all-around player after just two plus years. He will need another year before becoming eligible for aribtration and another four before free agency. The Angels don't have a gun at their head yet, but yet they do. Trout wasn't happy when they renewed him at $510,000 last year, only $20,000 above the big league minimum, and they can hardly afford to further antagonize their center fielder and MVP runner-up. They owe Albert Pujols eight more years and Josh Hamilton four--a potentially tough financial slog despite their TV billions--but can they risk not getting ahead of the Trout Express at some point over the next two seasons? Can they risk anything short of a seven to 10 year agreement eclipsing anything that has come before (or has Trout's displeasure over last season's renewal already left him of a mind to take it a year at a time until closer to free agency)?

                The Dodgers knew they didn't want to reach Friday's deadline and have to exchange arbitration numbers with Kershaw and they certainly didn't want to get into the season with their left handed ace closing in on the temptation of free agency. On the basis of age and ability, with internal reports telling them that no pitcher at 1,000 innings or so had ever accomplished what Kershaw has, they knew what it would take, and what it would take hasn't been a deterrent to the Guggenheim group in its brief tenure as owner.

              Only rarely anymore does any team allow its best player to get away, and this is what Kershaw had going for him: Two Cy Young Awards in the last three seasons, three straight National League ERA titles, two of the last three strikeout titles and a four year average of 225 innings, 230 strikeouts and a composite ERA of 2.37.

             In addition, if Kerhaw is building a career comparable to his idol and mentor Sandy Koufax,  he is also already something of a man of the people with his mop of hair, gregarious personality and charity work on two continents.

           There are skeptics who will weigh the money and length and point out that a series of left handed pitchers over the years--Frank Tanana, Steve Avery and Don Gullet to name just three--began to demonstrate wear and tear after reaching 1,000 innings at a comparatively young age. They will also point out that Kershaw seemed to wear down as the playoffs wore on last year, turning in one of his worst efforts in the decisive Game 6 with St. Louis.

           Nevertheless, at 25, given his statistical foundation, the fact he will still be in his prime when the seven years are up and that, as agent Casey Close negotiated, he can opt out after five years, the Dodgers clearly felt the better part of history as it relates to their own left hander was on their side. They now have five players who will earn $20 million or more in 2014 and a payroll certain to exceed an MLB high $250 million with the lingering question of whether to extend Hanley Ramirez and/or to pursue Masahiro Tanaka.

          With the status of Kerhaw and manager Don Mattingly stabilized, however, the Dodgers have taken two major steps as Guggenheim continues to take care of its own house no matter how much unhappiness it creates in smaller markets or how much immediate abuse owner Mark Walter has to endure during the current owners' meetings where he will undoubtedly cross paths with Arte Moreno, who has suddenly been left with a little more to consider when it comes to the L.A. market and what to do now or in the near future about retaining his centerfielder on a longterm basis.
                           

                       

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A-Rod on an Island of His Own Making





      By Ross Newhan

      No man is an island?

      Well, Alex Rodriguez is.

      He is a man without constituency, isolated except for his retinue of lawyers and public relations personnel.

      The players union? The union did what it had to do in supporting him (any player would have been given the same support) in his appeal of Major League Baseball's 211 game suspension, but when the arbitrator announced that he was upholding a record 162 game suspension--covering the 2014 season and post-season--the union released a brief statement saying it strongly disagreed with the decision but recognized it as "final and binding" and respected the collective bargaining process that led to it.

     Teammates and fellow players? Where were their tweets Saturday?

     The New York Yankees? Good riddance. Oh, a Yankee statement couldn't go that far, but are they happy to save about $22 million in 2014 salary and to be free of the daily distraction that Rodriguez had become? There can be no doubt about that even though it isn't clear who will be playing third base in the coming season beyond Kelly Johnson as the left handed hitting part of a possible platoon.

     Kelly Johnson replacing Alex Rodriguez?

     Call it an inglorious way to finish, an arrogant, egotistical and colossal waste of talent and intelligence. 

     Thirty nine in July, having undergone two hip operations and played only a handful of games in 2013, how likely is it that Rodriguez can come back in 2015?

     A federal court could throw him a lifeline by ordering a stay in the arbitrator's decision, allowing him to start the new season in uniform, but that it is a longshot, according to legal experts.

     Courts seldom intercede in arbitration cases created by collective bargaining.

    Rodriguez, in a statement Saturday, continued to say the deck was stacked against him, that the arbitrator heard evidence and testimony that wouldn't have been allowed in a courtroom, but he has been firing from that repaired hip from the time that Biogenesis scandal first surfaced, calling it a personnel witchhunt by MLB, throwing legal and/or personal grenades at Bud Selig, the Yankees, the arbitrator (Fredric Horowitz) and a Yankee team physician.

    Make no mistake: MLB went hard after Rodriguez and the other players implicated in Biogenesis, and aspects of the investigation, paying for evidence, according to reports, and leaning on testimony from a turned felon, may have seemed distasteful then, and distasteful now. However, in a case in which only one of 14 players had a positive drug test on his record, that evidence can be assumed to have been and to be unprecedented, ultimately leading to an unprecedented suspension.               

     For Rodriguez, of course, it didn't have to come to 162 games.

    The other 13 players considered the evidence and accepted far shorter bans--12 agreeing to 50 games, and Ryan Braun, who had tested positive in 2012 only to have the test thrown out on a technicality, accepted 65. Rodriguez was in MLB's crosshairs from the time he rejected any and all offers of a plea bargain, and while the determined wrapup of Biogenesis represents a positive development for baseball in the ongoing battle to eliminate the use of performance enhancing drugs, it is alo a sad and, perhaps, final day for a player (wealth aside) who should have been another kind of face of the game.

                
         

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

It's A Negative Hit Parade Behind Maddux, Glavine and Thomas








           By Ross Newhan

           The Hall of Fame voting results mirror the complexity of the 2014 ballot.

            Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas survived the bottleneck to become deserving winners, and, yes, 16 voters failed to include Maddux on their ballot but with 97.2% of the 571 votes it will not matter much to the 355 game winner when he is inducted on July 27 in Cooperstown.

            Craig Biggio needed only two more votes to also qualify for a plaque.

            Biggio, who led the winner-less 2013 election in his first year with 68.2%, climbed to 74.8% this time, so close to the needed 75% that he seems certain to attain in 2015, though there also seems to be no predicting an electorate of which I am one.

           Maddux, Glavine and Thomas were all in their first year of eligibility and reflected the quality of a large frosh class that compounded a) the similar worthiness of a large group of ballot holdovers, b) the lingering question for many, many voters of what to do with an otherwise qualified group of players tied to the Steroid Era and c) the ongoing 10 vote limit when there were probably 20 players deserving of serious consideration.

           It was virtually impossible not to vote for 10--which I did for the first time in 43 years and many others did as well, according to their published accounts--and the difficulty of that process can best be measured by the results behind Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and Biggio (the latter also being impacted by the depth of the ballot and the widespread differences in voter thinking).

           In fact, behind the top four, the only holdover to show an appreciable increase in percentage was Mike Piazza, and none of the newcomers attained a percentage--as illustrated by Mike Mussina's 20.3 and Jeff Kent's 15.2---that indicated they will have a serious chance in the next 14 years to climb to 75.

          Jack Morris, who was second in 2013 voting at 67.7%, fell to 61.5 in his 15th and last year on the ballot, a victim, perhaps, of the NewThink metrics and a blow to those of us who have continued to support his candidacy. Morris will now go to a veteran's committee in 2016.

         Jeff Bagwell, who was third in 2013 at 59.6, fell to 54.3,  a modest drop compared to many others. Piazza, fourth in 2013 at 57.8, withstood the earthquake, climbing to 62.2 to rank fifth behind Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and Biggio.

         Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Fred McGriff, Lee Smith and Larry Walker, all among candidates thought to have a chance now or in the future, took major hits, and the PED boys all slipped. If the majority thinking in regards to Barry Bonds, at 34.7, and Roger Clemens, at 35.4, is changing affirmatively, it wasn't demonstrated by the 2014 vote, and a third member of the PED contingent, Rafael Palmeiro, fell to 4.4, below the 5% need to stay on the ballot despite a career of more than 500 home runs and more than 3,000 hits.      

          Whether the vote limit will be increased before the 2015 election is uncertain. Hall officials seem disinclined to make any changes, and it is unclear if the Baseball Writers Assn. of America will muster a lobbying campaign.

         One thing IS certain: A complex process will remain complex, with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz among those joining the ballot.

           My 2014 ballot again: Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Biggio, Piazza, Morris, Martinez, Kent, Schilling and Smith.