Friday, February 13, 2004
Sucker's WalkYeah, I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for people who approach their jobs by asking, "If we weren't already doing it this way, is this the way we would start?"
That's one of the sentiments expressed by purported Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta in a Credit Suisse First Boston Thought Leader Forum speech that has been circulating around the Internet recently.
DePodesta doesn't advocate change for the sake of change. In some instances, the answer to the question above will be affirmative. But life changes, information grows, and most of all, we don't know everything. DePodesta's question combines humility with a determination to do better. It's the right attitude to have.
Technically, at least, the Dodgers have other general manager candidates to replace Danglin' Dan Evans. One who would like to be considered is Jim Bowden, former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
Although his name grew familiar to many of us during his 11 years with the Reds, let's not forget that Bowden was once a boy wonder like DePodesta. Until Theo Epstein came around, Bowden was the youngest general manager in big-league history, hired at age 31 - the same age DePodesta is now.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports Weekly wrote a column about Bowden this week, in which the following quote appears.
"It would be fun to go to a big market, though, and have a chance to win year after year," Bowden told Nightengale. "If I can be creative with a payroll in the forites and fifties, I can be creative with a budget in the hundreds.
"I look at the Dodgers, and think, how can you have the best pitching staff in the league and score less runs than the Tigers? Come on. You've got to do something."
I look at Bowden's words, and wonder what kind of wall I can build to keep him out of Los Angeles.
First of all, creative is a nice mantra to bandy about, but Bowden creatively presided over a team that had six losing seasons out of 11, including the past three, most of the time in the National League's weakest division. Of course, the payroll limitations Bowden cites are legitimate, but for him to brag about his record is silly.
As far as the second half of Bowden's quote, many people would agree. One of those agreeing would be Dan Evans.
The idea that Evans didn't think something should be done to improve the offense is preposterous. No, he didn't succeed yet, and his signing of OBP-challenged Juan Encarnacion (a former Bowden acquisition) raised questions anew about his ability to do so.
On the other hand, Evans reduced the payroll, nurtured the farm system - and oh yeah, built that great pitching staff, the accomplishment many find it so easy to dismiss. He laid the groundwork to acquire some hitting, which he no doubt could have done had Frank McCourt's ownership approval needs not interfered.
Now, it's one thing for you and I to shoot the breeze, in conversation or in print, and say that the Dodgers need offense. But for a baseball executive like Bowden to take simplistic pot shots at a counterpart, without any evidence he could do the job better - that guy needs his ego balloon popped.
Combine Bowden's statement with the incident back in 2001, when Bowden tried to big-time Evans by refusing to discuss business at baseball's winter meetings until Tommy Lasorda was in the room, and Bowden sounds like the big-headed spawn of our last general manager debacle, Sheriff Kevin Malone.
"I don't want to sound arrogant or brash, but there's no doubt in my mind that I can turn the Dodgers into winners again," Bowden later tells Nightengale. "If I did it in Cincinnati, I sure can do it in L.A."
You had two division titles in 11 years at Cincinnati, Jim. Even the Dodgers can match that - with more than twice as many winning seasons to boot.
Guess how you sound.
Not like someone who would come into a situation with the ethic and flexibility to best determine how to improve a baseball team.
Nightengale writes that Bowden "definitely" deserves at least consideration for the job. Maybe you just need to get to know Bowden for that to become apparent. Maybe you just need to not challenge Bowden when he says that under him, the Reds "finished in first place three times," when it only happened twice. In any case, Nightengale doesn't make a very good case for Bowden with this article.
There are three threads spooling with the Dodger general manager position. There is the incumbent, Evans, who is not perfect, but who in less than three years on the job has removed much of the organizational dead weight and made the idea of long-term success possible.
There is his boss, McCourt, whose sincerity in telling us that Evans is a candidate to keep his job is dubious. (I guess McCourt would argue that he is no different than Democracy itself, which this year will tell George W. Bush whether he can keep his job.)
And there are the candidates. I honestly don't know that much about DePodesta. I've read Moneyball and I've read his speech and I've paid attention to the success of the Oakland A's and what other people say about him, but I'm not going to be the one to argue that I possess a wealth of knowledge about DePodesta. I know he has a bright mind and a sabermetric mind - which to be clear, doesn't prize one stat or another over all else, but factual knowledge over all else.
I don't know if DePodesta is the answer. But yes, based on the information I have, I'd rather that the clumsy McCourt take a chance on him than any other outside candidate.
If I'm wrong about DePodesta, I'll do the Sucker's Walk - with McCourt leading the way.
First, thanks again for all your support of this site, and welcome to the many new readers that have come in recent days and weeks. Site readership has practically doubled since the New Year began, and it has probably quintupled since the end of the 2003 season. I hope to continue to justify your clicks and bookmarks.
Speaking of which ... that day has come for you to reset your bookmark list. Dodger Thoughts has become an official member of the All-Baseball.com network, featuring many of the best baseball writers around. This site is joining The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy by Christian Ruzich, the Will Carroll Weblog, Alex Belth's Bronx Banter and Mike's Baseball Rants along with fellow new members Baysball, Peter J. White/Mariner Musings and Bryan Smith/Wait Til Next Year.
The new URL for Dodger Thoughts is http://www.all-baseball.com/dodgerthoughts. I am also pleased to announce that I have registered the www.DodgerThoughts.com domain name. Typing in that URL should take you directly to the new All-Baseball.com location.
My approach to Dodger Thoughts won't be affected by the move; my goal is still to try to find insight about the team and the game when I can ... and keep my mouth, or fingers, shut when I can't. But I do hope that the closer link with these fine writers will yield additional benefits, perhaps through collaborative efforts or by building respect as a group for what I think has become a worthwhile outlet for baseball coverage.
I'm also pleased to say that for the first time, you will be able to add your comments directly to Dodger Thoughts postings. I'm not shutting my e-mail door - not by a longshot - but I'm all for creating a Dodger Thoughts community and dialogue for anyone who's interested. Of course, just play by the rules of decorum that we've come to appreciate - keep it cool and keep it clean. (Although I use profanity all too regularly offline, I do hope to make people of all ages feel welcome at Dodger Thoughts, so please refrain from using it in your comments.)
You'll also see that the new site comes with a search function, which I hope will make it easier for you to find past articles on any subject I have covered since my first post in July 2002.
We'll be tinkering a little bit over the coming days as everyone settles in at their new sites - there's still some tweaks in the look and the functionality of the site that we'd like to make. So be patient - but feel free to offer suggestions.
For now, I will be using the nice, long weekend to have a nice, long weekend. Look for new content at the new location on Tuesday. Until then, have a great weekend, and get ready for pitchers and catchers to report to Vero Beach next week!
Thursday, February 12, 2004
A Farm ReportWhile I try to find the time to put together an entry on generalmanagerdom, enjoy this review of the Dodger farm system by ESPN.com's John Sickels.
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Bard Scores AgainThe Score Bard has updated his website, The Humbug Journal with a great new look - and redrawn his world-famous Periodic Table of Blogs. Dodger Thoughts has cleverly been moved to the La slot. (Lanthanum is "silvery white, malleable, ductile, and soft enough to be cut with a knife.")
Much more than a blog, The Humbug Journal is like recess breaking up another slow day in class.
The Youth MarketRaul Mondesi's agreement with Mario Guerrero, that bound him to pay a percentage of his career earnings to his former coach, is symptomatic of a widespread effort by Dominican Republic coaches to get a greater "return on investment" for their efforts in tutoring childhood ballplayers, according to baseball writer and broadcaster Carlos J. Lugo:
Lugo, who told me in an e-mail that Mondesi "had actually signed a written agreenment with Guerrero," according to other news reports, put the case in perspective:
What's in the background of this (not specifically in this case in particular but in general) I think is more interesting. Our country is transformed into a baseball player factory or some sort of assembly line. Everywhere you can see young kids playing ball, and the sad part is that they're not exactly playing for the fun of it (as I did and as you did) but trying to become professional baseball players.
As a consequence, an informal industry has arisen around the MLB teams academies and operations. The lack of a more formal or structured development chain - like school or little leagues in the U.S. - resulted in some kind of "informal development chain" that started in disorganized little league teams, where the "coach" gave the basic training to the kids until they approached 15 to 17 years of age, an age when they show if they're signable...
These "coaches" are the first ones looking for some sort of "return on investment," and what they're doing lately is signing some sort of formal contract where they get the player to share one fraction of their signing bonuses, or, if they're as wise and lucky as Guerrero, hit the jackpot with a guy that eventually make it to the big leagues and becomes a regular player.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a local publication about the "Little Leagues" in the San Pedro de Macorís area ... and was kind of surprised to what I found. My goal was to do some research and see where guys like Pedro Guerrero, Sammy Sosa, Tony Fernandez or Alfonso Soriano came from, and how it is. What I found was a bunch of "coaches" trying to explain me how this nine-year old child had good hands and a good bat and was "projectable" to be a great shortstop and a chance to be signed in six or seven years.
Those people are pretty much doing the same thing as Mario Guerrero, identifying guys with athletic ability and trying to produce a pro-baseball player and see if they can make good money in the process. I don't know if this is unethical because that's "their job," that's what "they do," but there's no doubt that money is a more important factor than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
Aside from having my curiosity about Dominican Republic baseball renewed this week, my immediate thought upon reading Lugo's report was about coaches, kids and parents in the United States. Somewhere, there must be a youth coach, one who previously only dreamed of a paid trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania and some national television exposure with the Little League World Series, now dreaming of getting a renewable early-bird fee for sheperding a future major leaguer. Will U.S. coaches now dream about becoming so valuable as baseball instructors that they will try to convince parents of nine-year-old children to sign long-term deals giving the coach a percentage of their career earnings?
On the one hand, it seems far-fetched. On the other, this country certainly has families who can't afford the flat fee for extra baseball tutoring but would be willing to gamble on future earnings. After all, 1 percent is still only 1 percent.
DePodesta Era To BeginPeter Gammons of ESPN.com reports that Paul DePodesta will be hired as general manager for the Dodgers this weekend. (Thanks to Jason Harris for the timely alert.)
Gammons has been wrong before, but I have the feeling he's right this time.
I have all the hopes in the world for DePodesta, I really do, but Evans deserved better. He rescued a sinking ship and was poised to raise the sails, only to have someone drill a hole underneath him.
May you live in interesting times, as they say ...
(Before leaving with his $500,000 salary and his dignity intact, Dan Evans signed Guillermo Mota to a one-year contract for $1.475 million, leaving Eric Gagne as the Dodgers' only potential salary arbitration case.)
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Insightful - and FunnyRead Kevin Modesti in the Daily News today. But don't challenge him to a fistfight.
One Step RemovedTwice in the past week, including Monday, ESPN.com's Rob Neyer has cited work on Baseball Primer for his column on platoon splits and the idea that in order to hit lefties well, you must be able to hit righties well (which I elaborated on here).
Insightful thinking is getting noticed, at least in the baseball world. Congratulations to MGL, Steve Treder and others whose work has been recognized (although hopefully not misappropriated) by Neyer and others.
$10 Million LeftTwenty-two players, $89.75 million.
That's where the Dodgers stand in salary committments today, with players signed and players destined to be signed via arbitration or contract renewals.
Kurt, the author of Arrive in the Third, Leave After Seven, e-mailed me a link to a syndicated Vero Beach Press Journal interview with Dodger owner Frank McCourt. The Q & A contains the usual McCourt platitudes, Florida style, but McCourt does reiterate that "I just wanted to assure the fans we're going to have a $100 million payroll and this is a major market team."
So, even without a trade, the Dodgers have approximately $10 million to spend. While they may not want to bump against that limit in February, that's still a big nugget. Were they to trade Odalis Perez' $5 million salary, they would have even more room.
Ostensibly, three slots on the 25-man roster remain. If Darren Dreifort (or anyone, for that matter) starts the season on the disabled list, four slots remain. At least one of those slots, if not two, will go to a minimum-wage pitcher, like Steve Colyer or Edwin Jackson. That leaves $9 million to $14 million to spend on two hitters, or on a single hitter if you keep a low-cal guy like Joe Thurston or Jose Hernandez.
Something can still be done.
Dodger 2004 Salary Commitments
*$6.25 million minus Yankee contribution of $1.5 million
|Shawn Green||$16.0 million|
|Darren Dreifort||$11.0 million|
|Hideo Nomo||$8.0 million|
|Todd Hundley||$6.5 million|
|Adrian Beltre||$5.0 million|
|Odalis Perez||$5.0 million|
|Jeff Weaver||*$4.75 million|
|Paul Lo Duca||$3.9 million|
|Paul Shuey||$3.8 million|
|Juan Encarnacion||$3.5 million|
|Kazuhisa Ishii||$2.6 million|
|Brian Jordan||**$2.5 million|
|Tom Martin||$1.65 million|
|Wilson Alvarez||$1.5 million|
|Alex Cora||$1.3 million|
|Robin Ventura||$1.2 million|
|Jolbert Cabrera||$1.0 million|
|Dave Roberts||$0.975 million|
|Bubba Trammell||***$0.3 million|
**Buyout of 2004 option
***Yankees paying remainder of $1.85 million salary commitment
Additional Dodger 2004 Salary Estimates
|Eric Gagne||$6.5 million|
|Guillermo Mota||$1.5 million|
|Cesar Izturis||$0.5 million|
|Dave Ross||$0.4 million|
Catchers (3): Hundley, Lo Duca, Ross
Infielders (5): Beltre, Cora, Ventura, Cabrera, Izturis
Outfielders (4): Green, Encarnacion, Roberts, Trammell
Starting pitchers (6): Dreifort, Nomo, Perez, Weaver, Ishii, Alvarez
Relief pitchers (4): Shuey, Martin, Gagne, Mota
A Stanford Man in the HouseRuben Amaro, Jr., who played on Stanford's first College World Series championship team in 1987 when I was a sophomore there, has interviewed for the Dodger general manager position.
With none on and one out in the bottom of the 10th inning in an elimination game against Louisiana State, and the Cardinal facing a 5-2 deficit, Amaro walked and later scored on the greatest hit in Stanford history, a grand slam off Ben McDonald by freshman Paul Carey.
Amaro is the assistant general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He had an OPS of .663 in 485 major league games with the Phillies, Angels and Indians. Interestingly, his career batting average was .001 higher than his father's.
And that's what I know, so far...
Update: "If I think that Ruben Amaro is only being interviewed because he is a minority, does that make me a cynic?"Dodger Thoughts reader Chris Hamilton asks. "Looks like McCourt has just about wrapped up the GM search."
If You're Feeling Really Blue ...It ain't my style, but it's clever. Dodger Blues can point you to the wardrobe for those who want to express their frustration with the Dodgers: Chavez Latrine T-shirts and souvenirs.
Mondesi Forced To Pay 1 Percent of Career EarningsEx-Dodger Raul Mondesi has been forced by a Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic court to pay 1 percent of the money he has earned in his baseball career, plus interest, to former major leaguer Mario Guerrero - an amount totaling more than $1 million.
The story tip comes via e-mail from Raul Tavares, rapidly becoming a Dodger Thoughts Dominican correspondent. According to the report published on the official Dominican League website, Guerrero initiated his case in 1998, based on a verbal agreement he made years before when he became Mondesi's coach and advisor. Tavares added that bank accounts in Mondesi's name have been frozen.
A story on Listin Diario reports that Guerrero and Mondesi made their agreement before Mondesi, currently looking for a major league job, signed with the Dodgers in 1988. Mondesi owes approximately $640,000 in salary and $422,000 in interest, the site reports.
Guerrero previously won a similar case against another former Dodger, Geronimo Berroa, according to Tavares.
Here is a link to the story in Spanish - the humorous Google translation, in which Mondesi becomes a "Domincan gardener" instead of "El jardinero dominicano," should be here, if I could get the link to work. You may have to hunt for it - though I'm sure the American wire services will pick up the story soon enough. Or, you can try translating the story on Systran.
Update: For more on this story, see Wednesday's Dodger Thoughts posting.
In other news from Tavares:
On the 1030 AM radio program, Analizando el Beisbol, Dodger pitcher Odalis Perez said that he does not expect to be in a Dodger uniform in 2004, at least not for very long.
According to Tavares, Perez said that he regrets the situation that arose from his comments on the team's offensive woes, and that he does want to remain a Dodger, but that management thinks of him as a distraction.
Tavares said that Perez did stand by his comments, because he said the truth, even if no one wanted to hear it.
Tavares also added his own take on the comeback of Henry Rodriguez:
In his last effort to come back, he and the fans had a very sad experience, so this time many fans did not want him to come back because of the success Licey was having this season ... [Rodriguez] did not want to make his debut in a large stadium, in fear of the fans' rejection.
I've been a fan of Henry since he was a rookie in the Dodgers organization. Henry is now in the best shape of his carreer and very muscular. His swing is shorter than before; he has improved his batting against left-handers.
In the playoffs he hit two HR in a game, one of them traveling a long distance and clearing a wall - it was lost in the lights. It could have landed in the second deck of the Yankee Stadium.
Monday, February 09, 2004
Oh Henry! ReturnsA very late but very great Winter League season enabled ex-Dodger Henry Rodriguez, who has only one major-league hit since 2000, to receive a non-roster invite to Spring Training from the Pirates last week.
Given the annual flux of the Pittsburgh roster, which also will take a chance on humbled Dodger washout Daryle Ward, this isn't a huge surprise. But there is an interesting story about it, courtesy of Carlos J. Lugo, a Dodger Thoughts reader who is a television broadcaster for the Estrellas de Oriente ballclub as well as the Dominican Winter League on Fox's cable networks.
Reporting on the DWL for Baseball Prospectus, Lugo wrote that Rodriguez ...
... was clearly overweight and out of shape and he couldn't even made the (Licey) team for the season opener, even though there are many spots available early in the season. Licey's manager Manny Acta acted very politely regarding Rodriguez, and refused to discard the possibility of him joining the club later, saying that he just need more time to get back in shape.
The season went on for Licey, and Rodriguez wasn't even mentioned in conversations regarding the team, and when the outfielder finally appeared at the end of the season, people thought it was just a good gesture from Acta and the Tigers' front office to let him play a few unimportant games. As expected, Rodriguez looked overmatched, hitting just .200/.273/.550 in 20 at-bats, and the line wasn't worse because he had a two-homer game at friendly Julian Javier Stadium.
When the playoffs started manager Acta surprised everybody when he named Rodriguez his everyday leftfielder, but at the end Acta was right because Rodriguez was useful in the playoffs, hitting three home runs, two of them in key games, and had an incredible Final Series hitting .579 with two home runs, eight runs batted in, a double and four walks. As expected, Henry was named the series MVP.
There's no doubt that Henry is in much better physical shape than two years ago, and according to him, his troublesome back is not bothering him for the first time in the last few years. He showed good power during the post-season with five home runs in 18 games played, and his pitch recognition and plate discipline during that time was the best I've seen in him.
Although banking hopes for a comeback on a couple of playoff series for Licey is a little dicey, with Rodriguez' birthday only 18 days before mine, I'm rooting for his attempt at a career renaissance. Look at me, rejuvenated as a sportswriter after a long absence - although admittedly without a six-figure salary or anything thereabouts.
Lugo also writes that Jose Offerman, born one year to the day after Rodriguez, "still has the same virtues of years ago - good plate discipline and solid contact - and he's hitting for a little more power now than in the past. Offerman is in very good physical shape, and if a team could live with his defensive shortcomings, he's not a bad gamble as a bench player."
Update: Offerman signed a minor-league contract Monday with the Minnesota Twins.
* * *
Coincidentally, I received an e-mail over the weekend from another Dominican Republic reader, Raul Tavares, who has been a fan of the team since the World Series title year of 1981 and follows the games on DirecTV.
Tavares describes himself as "a Dodger fan in heavy pain," over the Frank McCourt purchase for the team, but had an interesting encounter recently. He writes:
As you may know, the Dodgers have a training facility here that it's called Campos Las Palmas, which has developed such great players as Pedro Martinez, among others.
Well, yesterday was the final game of Caribbean World Series, in which my other beloved team, the Licey Tigers, beat Puerto Rico, 4-3. In that game, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ralph Avila, senior consultant for the Dodgers, and the best part was meeting Luchy Guerra, Assistant Director of Minor League Operations. We spent about three innings talking Dodgers baseball.
She told me that she hopes that the Fox-McCourt transfer would be less traumatic than the O'Malley-Fox. I told her that I cried watching the press conference. She also told me that GM Dan Evans had a meeting with his staff and told them not to worry about him.
McCourt certainly has some good soldiers under him - or at least, some people who want to keep their jobs. In any event, how nice for Tavares that he could have that lengthy chat with Dodger management.