Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Photo Journal - Baseball in Nicaragua

(all photos in this segment provided by Cesar Armando Nunez)

My wife and I are in Nicaragua for the weekend to attend a wedding.  This isn't the first time I've been here and this time it is really a short visit, but a few things have happened that I think readers of this blog might find interesting.

First, there is the future husband of my wife's cousin.  His name is Cesar Armando Nuñez, and he's a television cameraman who spends his life taking amazing pictures.  He has also been our personal tour guide now for the last 24 hours and in the process, he simply takes amazing photos.   All the photos in this post are his shots and he has happily agreed to allow me to share them.  There's a lot of them and I have left a lot of fine photos out.

Second, I wanted to return to Roberto Clemente Stadium in Masaya.  I was there in 2003 during my last visit and I only took one weak photo from a distance.   There is something special about this dilapidated old Stadium that is currently undergoing rennovations that the caretaker told me would be finished by mid January.   This time I visited, Cesar took photo after photo of my wife and I as we took the unauthorized Stadium tour.  The home team that plays here is Los Fieras de San Fernando.  Yes, they have the SF on their caps and they adopted the colors black and orange.  Interestingly the most popular team in Managua, Los Indios de Boer, wears Dodger colors.

So what follows is the photo essay that I'm submitting without much explanation. The subjects in these photos are mainly pictures taken by Cesar of me and my wife, Esperanza.  (My hat, for those of you that don't recognize it is the WBC Dominican republic hat, that I believe goes well with my Dodger road jersey).

It starts with a view from the parking lot of a beautiful lake at the foot of the active Masaya volcano.  If you take a 180 degree turn "El Estadio Roberto Clemente" is visible,  named after the Pirate Hall of Famer.  We all know that Roberto perished in a plane crash when he decided to personally bring and distribute earthquake relief supplies to Managua.  Clemente received word that supplies from other sources were not being properly distributed to those in need by the Somoza government that was in power at the time, so he insisted on delivering them personally.  Sadly, his overloaded plane crashed into the seas off the coast of Puerto Rico.

The plaque that is in one of the photos reads the following:

"His heart and spiritual dimension was so large that he died in the course of loving his neighbor providing service that reached to the roofs of the vast skies, and for his grave, came the immensity of the seas.  To Roberto Clemente, Masaya, Nicaragua, 1972" 

More photos to follow in next post.  Cesar took some incredible shots of young children and then some teenagers playing baseball in the streets immediately outside the stadium.  I think many will enjoy his photographs.  Interestingly, baseball is the sport of Nicaragua.   With a major league footprint of players past and present such as "El Presidente" Denis Martinez, former Dodger Vicente Padilla, current Padre Everth Cabrera and former Giant Marvin Benard, Nicaragua, though surrounded by soccer loving countries to its North and South, is dominated in popularity by baseball.  In this tropical land, baseball is the game that is followed with passion.

Dodgers Minor Moves Show Them Getting Younger, Jury Still Out if They're Better

There's not a lot of off-season maneuvers for the Dodgers, but the ones they have made are showing a definite change in philosophy when it comes to building up their roster.  Word is out that the Dodgers are trying to get younger and the roster changes seem to show for the 2014 season.

Gone: 34 year old Skip Schumaker
Gone: 36 year old Nick Punto
Gone 36 year old Mark Ellis
Gone: 31 year old Ricky Nolasco who was seeking a long term deal.

Signed 26 year old Alexander Guerrero
Signed: 32 year old Dan Haren to a one year pact with incentives.
Signed: 28 year old Scott Elbert
Signed: 30 year old Drew Butera
Signed: 28 year old Mike Baxter
Acquired: 25 year old Jeremy Hazelbaker (for Alex Castellanos).

Drew Butera and Brandon League in September 2013 action. (photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

None of these decisions appear to be major impact moves,  though I'd argue that Guerrero may be one.   One thing most of them have in common:  The additions are with young players or the deals were short length contracts for an older guy (but not mid-30s player, like Haren).  It is plainly seen that the free agents seeking long term deals, such as Robinson Cano,  Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin Soo Choo and Mike Napoli are all off the Dodger’s radar, as they probably should be. 

Considering that Ned Colletti has a history of signing guys into their 30s up to age 35 or 36, I'd guess that these organizational moves have Stan Kasten’s finger prints all over them.  

The Dodgers also have to be completely in on Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka and we might see something that we haven’t seen since the early George Steinbrenner years, a  Dodger-Yankee bidding war for his services.  That might be the most interesting off season move in 2013-14.

The Dodgers in the late 70s were reluctant to enter into free agent bidding sweepstakes, even though the Yankees had success doing it.  Essentially the Yankees went out and signed the entire American League All Star team.  After the Yankees beat Los Angeles in consecutive World Series in ’77 and ’78 and then theDodgers fell flat in 1979, the O’Malley ownership reluctantly went all in and landed two top free agents.  Those two players were: RHP Dave Goltz and Reliever Don  (full pack) Stanhouse.

Both pitchers had awful Dodgers careers and never regained their All Star-like form of years previous.  Their lackluster performances had an impact that kept the Dodgers mainly out of free avant sweepstakes for another half dozen years or so.  Both were sought after by the Yankees too, but interestingly enough, the Dodgers outbid them for their services.

Had the Dodgers bought in to building the team partially through free agency, historically things would have been quite different.  In 1975 Reggie Jackson reported that Oakland owner Charlie Finley would trade him to a team that offered $2 million in exchange.  Reggie had been in Hawaii participating in ABC’s Superstars competition and chummed it up with several Dodgers, including L.A.’s General Manager, Al Campanis.  After Reggie mention to Campanis what Finley was  purportedly seeking, Campanis said he thought the trade could be worked out.

So Reggie Jackson returned to the Bay Area and told Finley that he had a deal with the Dodgers for the terms he had specified and the A’s owner balked saying he’d never sell him for cash alone, as the fans would be in an uproar.   Considering that a year latter he tried to sell Vida Blue and Joe Rudi for straight cash, (a move Commissioner Bowie Kuhn disallowed), it’s hard to believe that Finley wouldn’t sell Jackson too.  The potential trade died before even growing on the vine.

A year later Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally were declared the first free agents in MLB when the reserve clause was successfully challenged and baseball history has never been the same.

Imagine if Jackson had been a Dodger from 1975.  Perhaps he would have done his magical Mr. October exploits in Los Angeles.  It's one of those "what ifs" that we can only imagine.

(source to the Reggie Jackson saga found at ESPN.COM)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Joseph Julius "Babe" Hamberger - An All Time Great Brooklyn Dodger That You Won't Find in the Record Books

An unforgettable man from Dodger history was none other than Joseph Julius “Babe” Hamberger, a Dodger employee from age 14 in 1921 up until when the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1958 and even beyond that.  Hamberger, though offered a position with the team out west in Los Angeles, elected to stay behind.  He served as the caretaker for Ebbets Field until its destruction in 1960. Few realize that Ebbets continued to host sporting events up until a few months before the wrecking ball took it down.  Hamberger was there until the very end.  
Babe Hamberger at Vero Beach in early 1950s (photo from www.walteromalley.com)

Long Island University and St. Johns played baseball there in '58 and '59.  Satchel Page pitched in an exhibition game in August of 1959 in a game between teams touted as the Havana Cubans and Kansas City Monarchs.  Additionally a number of American Soccer League matches took place there, including the final sporting event held in the Stadium on October 25, 1959, a few weeks after the L.A. Dodgers defeated the White Sox in the World Series.

Shortly into the 1958 season, the first year New York was without National League baseball, The Milwaukee Sentinel ran a piece on April 17, 1958 addressing the Dodgers move to L.A. and the affects on Brooklyn.  In the article, Hamberger was interviewed:

“At Ebbets Field, Babe Hamberger, an employee of the Dodgers for 37 years, mostly as clubhouse man, sorrowfully watched a few maintenance men manicuring the diamond.  Babe is now in charge of the ball park. ‘I’ll sure miss them,’ he added. ‘Oh, well.  I still have a job.  With five kids, I’m still getting paid.  And that puts meat on the table.’”

(Source: “Ex-Dodger, Giant Fans ‘Hoiting’ Real Bad,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, by James L. Kilgallen).
Brooklyn Hall of Famer Zack Wheat is credited with giving Hamberger his nickname.  "Babe" had great affection for the Dodger great.

Hamberger started as a batboy at age 14 with the club and he remained on hand until their Brooklyn days ended.  Dodger legend Zack Wheat pegged the nickname “Babe” on him due to his youthful looks.  It was Wheat that would be identified by Hamberger years later as the "best ballplayer and person I knew with the club, no contest."   He became the longest tenured Dodger employee by the 1940s and an extremely loyal one to the borough as well.  Hamberger had a key to everything at the ballpark.  If you needed something, he was the “go-to” guy.  He actually did time as the megaphone public address announcer back in the 1920s.  He got some publicity while working in that department when a newspaper ran a blurb about him making a megaphone announcment regarding a lost child at the ballpark.  Hamberger is reported to have announced “a young child has been found lost.”

During the days when Brooklyn sat in the basement of the National League, year after year, Hamberger would literally repair the torn Dodger uniforms with a needle and thread hours after the last out was recorded following laubdering and cleaning the pants and jerseys.  Other jobs besides the team seamster that he had included ticket taker, turnstyle boy, ticket department employee, janitor, concessions employee, scoreboard operator, groundskeeper, clubhouse attendant, and traveling secretary.  But one position that absolutely proved his absolute loyalty to the Dodgers was Babe’s willingness to serve as a sacrificial lamb helmet tester.

Joe Medwick had been beaned in the head in 1940 shortly after the Dodgers had paid $125,000 for him in a trade with the Cardinals.  Dodger Team President Larry MacPhail was livid about the loss of his star player and he had batting helmets designed for his players in order to avoid future injuries.  He had  a renowned surgeon design a helmet after dozens of prototypes were designed.  MacPhail couldn’t get a player willing to wear the helmet as they protested that they were bulky and unsafe.  Babe Hamberger stepped forward and volunteered.  Years later MacPhail claimed he told him the following: “If you can assure me I won’t get hurt boss, I’ll put one of the things on and let Kirby Higbie throw at my head, that ought to convince those dumbbells.”   MacPhail never took him up on the offer, probably because he didn’t think his fireballing right hander had the accuracy to hit the willing Dodger loyalist in the head and not his face.

Leo Durocher in his infamous book “Nice Guys Finish Last” credited Babe Hamberger with successfully smuggling Dodger pitcher Van Lingo Mungo out of Cuba when the police were attempting to throw him in jail over a spat with the husband of a woman he was carrying on an affair with.  Hamberger smuggled him out of the hotel in a vegetable bin and got him on a seaplane out of Havana that very night.

Babe Hamberger painting seats at Ebbets Field.
Babe was offered a job out on the left coast, but he turned to down.  He had just bought a house and with five children entrenched in the borough, he felt that uprooting his family would be too difficult.  He remained behind and tended to Ebbets until the end with the faint hope that it would somehow stay open.  When Branch Rickey's attempt at forming a new league failed, Ebbets Field was done and with it, Hamberger was out of a job.  To the end he kept Ebbets well manicured and ready for on-field action. 

Hamberger never complained about Walter O'Malley after his tenure with the Dodgers ended in 1960.  And sadly, he never collected a major league pension either.  He was 53 years old, the Dodgers were gone and he fended for himself with odd jobs the rest of his life.  He knew so many in baseball, and he was always welcome at Met games.  Old pals in baseball would look him up.  He was an icon.  Babe Hamberger was the last remnant of  Brooklyn Dodger baseball.

In 1978 Babe died from heart failure.  He was buried in the same cemetery as his friend Jackie Robinson.  In the movie "42," Hamberger is depicted as the man stitching up Jackie after an injury.  Though he was never recorded to have worked as a team trainer, the acknowledgment of this great Dodger was more than warranted in the movie.  His daughter summed up her father with these words: "All my years growing up, my father never showed any animosity."  

When interviewed in 1959 in an empty Ebbets Field, a melancholy Babe Hamberger could only speak of what could have been:

"Boy There would be bedlam right now if the boys were still in Brooklyn."  (Gay Talese, New York Times).


For an in-depth article on Babe Hamberger, where much of this information was received,  please read SABR's Rory Costello's article on this amazing man in Dodger history.  Costello reached out to Hamberger's daughter, Stella Hamberger O'Conner who provided valuable insight to his life story.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Brian Wilson Being Courted by Detroit, What Will it Take to Keep Him in a Dodger Uniform?

(photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
With the Detroit Tigers reported to be narrowing in on the free agent signing of Brian WIlson, the following question surfaces with Dodger fans:  How much should the Dodgers be willing to pay to retain his services?

At age 31, Wilson returned from his 2012 season ending Tommy John surgery in great form.  Then as the season wore on during the pennant race stretch, he simply got stronger.  Wilson only allowed one run in one outing for the Dodgers in 24 appearances in both the regular and post season.  He was remarkably good.   He put himself in a position to earn a big money contract in 2014.   Dodger brass had to go in to the offseason realizing that a tandem of Wilson and Kenley Jansen at the back end of their relief corps for a full season would be about as good as any duo in the game.  

So we all wonder how serious the deep-pocketed Dodgers are to keep the bearded wonder.  Keeping that "lights out" combination intact has to be of high priority.  Wilson enjoyed his time as a Dodger and was the consummate teammate.  He already was reported by Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times say that if the Dodgers agree to pay him closer money, he would welcome returning to Los Angeles, (reported via Twitter on November 13, 2013).  As of yet there are no free agent closers that have been signed this off-season, so comparable contracts in this market are not out there, but there are some hints that the cost will be quite high.
The Angels signed Cleveland set up man Joe Smith on November 24th. (photo by Mark Duncan/AP)

The Angels signed Cleveland set up man Joe Smith to a 3 year/$16 million dollar deal.  A contract that many felt was excessive.  The Giants re-signed their sidearming LOOGY Javier Lopez to a 3 year/$13 million dollar contract.  All that for a guy that comes in to get a lefthander out.   That is out of this world money for set up men and relief specialists in today’s game, but the Dodgers might want to consider paying the exorbitant costs to keep their closing tandem intact.  Most would agree that the role of Wilson far outweighs those of the two relief pitchers listed above.   The Dodgers might want to visit the possibility of Jansen and Wilson sharing the closer’s role in 2014.

With the Smith and Lopez contracts already signed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see premier closer money in the neighborhood of $10 million per year.  That being said, it is expected to see Detroit offer Wilson a 3 year deal in the neighborhood between $27 and $30 million.  Are the Dodgers willing to go that far?  They'll have to be if they want to keep Wilson in Dodger blue.  As deep pocketed as the Dodger organization is, we'll see how seriously they view their bullpen in the coming days.

Friday, November 22, 2013

These Guys Are Embarrassing Themselves

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Mark Twain

Nearly every Dodger themed blogger has weighed in on the Kirk Gibson comments regarding how great his Diamondback organization is for having promoted the Australia series with two players, the team President and CEO. In the same statement he eluded to the fact that he believes the Dodgers, who he called “the other team” didn’t send any major players or administrative brass, and that they were disrespecting the game in the process.  Gibson's exact words were "are they too [expletive] good?"

(AP Photo)
I'll just make a few points and then we can move on from this silliness.  The Diamondbacks have some serious P.R. issues and it starts from the top.  They have leaders that don't know when to shut up.  These guys are looking real unprofessional in the process.  I have taken some time to point out some of the gaffes that they have made in the last five months.  It wasn't even real difficult, everything is so recent.

The Arizona Diamondback organization...

* is made up of a bunch of babies that dream of creating a rivalry with the Dodgers.  They might as well try to drive a rivalry into their minds through words because they sure aren’t having much success doing it on the field.

* cannot generate fans.  If it wasn’t for the Miami Marlins, they’d be dead last in the National League in attendance.  They should be grateful to the Dodgers because when L.A. comes to town, Arizona’s attendance rises substantially.

* has an owner with an inferiority complex that is so extreme that he can’t stomach opposing fans wearing opposing teams colors in the premium seats behind home plate.  So he threatens to eject them if they don’t change shirts.  The man is so paranoid that he even has a disclaimer in the fine print of those premium seat tickets that does not allow you to wear opposing team gear while sitting there.  I challenge someone to sit in these seats, refuse to change gear, get ejected and sue the pants off this guy.

* couldn’t stomach watching the Dodgers celebrate on their home field, therefore leading them to instruct them to curtail their on-field celebration and take it to the confines of the clubhouse.

* became so “offended” that the Dodgers dared use their ridiculous pool for an impromptu division championship pool party that they whined and cried in social media for days and days after the event.

* has celebrity fans such as their state senator who had enough time on his hands after failing to keep the government from shutting down that he called the Dodgers  “no-class” and “overpaid, immature, arrogant, spoiled brats.”  This is the same guy that as of 2006 had a net worth of $40 million through political gain.  

* threw pitches at Dodger player’s faces and heads in June, prompting a brawl that was about as ugly as any seen in baseball in 2013.  In most cases, brushback brawls come about by actions of both teams, but in this case the D-Backs were head-hunting, while the Dodger pitchers were throwing at the body.

* has a General Manager that called out his own team for not beaning Dodger hitters in late season games in September.  Worst of all, MLB did nothing to sanction this G.M. for his comments.

* now have comments from their manager lauding the “class” of their organization and hinting that the Dodgers, by sending A.J. Ellis are too arrogant to send top tier players and management to promote the game.

I don’t know about all of you, but the rhetoric and banter coming out of the D-Backs camp is laughable.  It is really embarrassing, but with so much smack talking,  this is becoming the norm for this organization.  Derrick Hall and Josh Rawitch need to step up and put a stop to the stupidity.  I don’t really care if they do, but for their own self respect, they need to step up and show some class.   I feel for those guys.  First they had to work for Frank McCourt and now Ken Kendrick.  Talk about dumb luck.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers stay silent, which is what they should do.  Best to follow Mark Twain's advice, and then beat the D-Backs on the field.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Possible Long Term Disastrous Implications of Shawn Tolleson Being Claimed by the Rangers

Shawn Tolleson in action in 2012. (photo by Kirby Lee/US Presswire)
Let’s put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Shawn Tolleson is Clayton Kershaw’s very close friend.  He was the best man at his wedding.  
Tolleson and his wife traveled to Zambia last year with the Kershaws to work at the school and orphanage they have established.  

Shawn Tolleson mixes cement in Africa at the orphanage that Clayton and Ellen Kershaw have built.  (photo from pitchinginthecommunity.mlblogs.com)
Both Tolleson and Kershaw are from the Dallas area and friends from their teenage years where they both played on the same USA Junior National team.  

(photo from: Greg Zakwin's blog, Plaschke Thy Sweater is Argyle LINKED HERE)

Tolleson, a fine pitching prospect in high school, was actually touted as a better prospect than Kershaw, but he underwent Tommy John surgery his senior year in high school and lost his elite status as a prospect.  His recovery from arm surgery was complete as he reached the big leagues after a long uphill battle that went through a baseball stint at Baylor University.   He was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010.

By 2012, Tolleson made his major league debut with the Dodgers.  His career was derailed this season with a back ailment that sidelined him for almost the whole year.  He was left off the Dodgers 40-man roster this winter and the Rangers picked him up.

Now this is where things could get ugly…

Kershaw will be a free agent after 2014 if the Dodgers don’t sign him to a record setting extension.  The Rangers are one of three or four teams that have the resources to pay big money to a pitcher the caliber of Kershaw.  The Rangers were the home town team that Clayton rooted for when he was growing up.  Kershaw has admitted that he is interested in seeing what offers the free agent market would bring him.  Now with Kershaw’s best friend on his favorite team in his home town, why wouldn’t he opt to see what the Rangers offer him in free agency? 

Prediction: Kershaw plays out 2014 as a Dodger and signs with the Rangers before the 2015 season.

Man, I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Utility Guys Wanted in L.A.

ESPN'S Buster Olney tweeted the following yesterday:

"Dodgers were prepared to re-sign Nick Punto, but Oakland had an offer markedly higher than L.A."

It’s probably safe to say that this was the first time in a long time that the A’s agreed to outspend the Dodgers for a player.  But...

That’s a good thing.  Thirty-six year old utility infielders shouldn’t get multi-year deals.  Not in this age of baseball.  The magic potions brought forth by PEDs a few years ago seemed to buy older players more years of playing time.  Those days are gone now.  There are younger, more athletic and more productive utility guys out there to be had, and Colletti will find some.
Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto are a 2013 memory now, both signed this past week to multi-year deals outside of Los Angeles. (photo by Alex Gallardo/AP)

Some are concerned that the loss of Punto and his carpool buddy, Skip Schumaker will be irreplaceable cogs in the Dodger’s championship wheel.  To that I can’t disagree more.  They were contributors in 2013, but they weren’t invaluable.  Both those guys brought clubhouse chemistry to the team and were a good fit, but winning brings chemistry more than mediocre utility players with a good attitude.  There are bench players that can be found.  They are plentiful and cheap.  You can't tell me that a utility player won't be eager to latch on to a top tier team like the Dodgers.  A team that has most of the pieces in place to go all the way.
Franklin Gutierrez, a free agent on the move. (photo by Tonmy Gutierrez/AP)
There are free agent players out there to be had like former Dodger Franklin Gutierrez who can fill in all outfield spots.  He’s only 30 years old.  There’s a 33 year old Cesar Izturis, who can fill in as a defensive replacement at all infield positions.   Thirty-three is a bit on the older side, but a one-year deal to Cesar wouldn’t be a horrible deal and we all know that his glove is great.   The Dodgers already signed utility infielder Brendan Harris to a minor league deal and he’s 5 years younger than Schumaker.  Harris has a minor league deal, as he should, because he has never really performed on the big league level.  He’s young and he’s not locked on to the 40 man roster, so where’s the damage?

Grady Sizemore attempting to garner interest as a comeback free agent in 2014. (photo by Chuck Crow, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
Then there’s the guy you might want to catch on the comeback trail, such as Grady Sizemore.  Taking a flier on Sizemore who has let the world know that he’s willing to accept a minor league deal in order to come back from injury, is an adventure with little risk.  They’ve got nothing to lose there. Sizemore hasn’t played a major league game since 2011, but he’s only 31 years old.

There’s the possible players that will be non-tendered that should be considered as well.  Some utility guys on the bubble that might surface are former Dodgers Tony Abreu of the Giants, Don Kelly of the Tigers and Darwin Barney from the Cubs who had a terrible 2013, but is 27 and has upside, particularly as a second baseman.  All those guys get the Dodger bench corps much younger than what they would have had with Schu and Punto.

It's almost inevitable that Colletti will sign a number of players that many consider to be scrubs to report to Camelback Ranch on minor league contracts.  Watch for those names to surface with barely a blip on the radar.  A few of them will surface as the Puntos and Schumakers of 2014 for the Dodgers.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Alexander Guerrero on Dominican Website - Claims his wrist Injury Is Getting Better, but Dodger Management Is Keeping Him from Returning Until He's 100%

Dodger news is about as dead as it gets.   Call it  the nothingness of November.  It's simply a month of no news.  The top stories in the sports world surround such topics as bullying and hazing.  Baseball awards have already been dispersed and next we wait for the winter meetings and Rule Five draft.  

Dodger news is limited to the loss of Nick Punto to the Athletics and rumors surrounding Dodger free agents such as Ricky Nolasco and Brian Wilson.  When the announcement of Dodger 2014 promotional giveaways makes top billing in the L.A.Times and prominent blogs, you know that there’s simply little to report.

Maybe that’s for the best though, as we trudge through the doldrums of late fall, it’s time to give baseball a bit of a respite from our minds.

There is baseball being played in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but that stuff is so far removed most of us.  I am seriously considering a lengthy vacation to the Dominican Republic one winter though, as some Dominican friends have me convinced that going there and witnessing that league in it's splendor is now a bucket list item.

Reports on how our Dodger players are performing there are simply all we have at the moment.  It’s nice to chart their progress and all, but then again, in the back of our minds many of us are just hoping that our players emerge from those off-season leagues with a respectable performance, their confidence intact enough that their progress isn't hindered in any way.  Most importantly, that they return back to the states in good health. 

With health in mind, Alexander Guerrero hasn’t seen action for Los Gigantes del Cibao since his 3 for 3 night on November 12th when he homered and hit two singles.  It is reported that he has some sort of left wrist injury.  Meanwhile, Dee Gordon over at Licey continues to play centerfield and he’s batting .375 after 40 ABs in 10 games.   He even threw out a runner at third base with that cannon arm of his the other night.  Perhaps the outfield is Gordon's future home in the big leagues.

Tonight I ran across this two minute interview with Guerrero from a Dominican Baseball website titled PelotaCriolla.com.  LINKED HERE  Those Spanish speakers might want to listen to it.  The interview is in Spanish and I did my best at translating the gist of it.  Considering that the audio isn’t the best and the fact that Mr. Guerrero is really talking fast in a Cuban accent that strongly has a tendency to cut words off in the last syllable.  This is the best I could do.  

Interviewer: We’re here with Alexander Guerrero.  Alexander has been sitting out, we see you today, you are getting ready to practice,  How do you feel?

Guerrero: Good, I feel better.  About 4 days ago I had a slight strain of my left thigh. I have had a lot of hours of treatment with the trainers and they say I’m better, but the management of the Dodgers doesn’t want to rush the process.

Interviewer: Exactly.  I wanted to ask you, about Dodgers management.  What do they say about your injury?

Guerrero:  They tell me to continue but they want me at 100%.  Because the Dodgers will start Spring Training in Arizona 3 weeks earlier because they have some games in Australia.  Since they’ll be in Australia, they’ll want me to be with the team.

Interviewer: And your level of motivation, Is it intact? Do you think you will be able at some point be playing and be present until the end (of the Dominican season)?

Guerrero: I plan on being with the team when they give me the green light to play.  I told our director Pablo Peguero (the G.M. of the Gigantes)  that as soon as they give me the green light, I’ll go.  I want to play today.  I wanted to play today but it is impossible because the doctors don’t want me to.  They (the Gigantes) don’t control me.  I signed with the an understanding that the Dodgers would control when I play and I have to abide by that.  The interest in playing is there.  I want to play today.  I told the manager that, but I need to be at 100%, then I can play.  I came here to play.  But they told me “no.”  So I’m not going to rush things to play.

Interviewer: In the 3 games you have played with the team, what information about the league has been passed on to you?  Are you adapting well?  Do you like the League?  Are you learning things that is able to tune up your game?

Guerrero: This league is at a high level and I want to play as many games as possible int he Dominican League because of the high level of competition, but they (Dodgers management) don’t want to rush me back too soon.

Interviewer: Alexander, Thank you very much and get better soon.

Guerrero: Thank you very much.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Posting System Uncertainty Could Hurt Large Market Clubs

Serious issues have surfaced regarding the posting system for available players in Japan transferring to an MLB team.  A restructuring of the agreement has been attempted by the NPB and MLB without success.  At present there is a blind bidding process for the rights to negotiate a contract with a player.  Attempts have been made to allow the top bidders to attempt to sign a player.  News today reports that the MLB and NPB have not been able to reach an agreement on how to proceed with these potential transactions.
Masahiro Tanaka (AP Photo)
The result: there may be no transfer of Masahiro Tanaka to any team this off season.  With all indications showing that Tanaka was interested in coming to the Yankees or the Dodgers, there isn't a lot of incentive for the remaining 28 teams to want this dilemma solved in the next few weeks.

Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the NPB champion Rakuten Golden Eagles this past season.  He is probably the most coveted pitcher available this winter.  If the bidding system dispute isn't solved soon, look for the cost of free agent pitchers such as Haren, Garza, Jimenez and Santana to rise substantially.

The New York Daily News reported today that at the Orlando G.M. meetings, representatives from the Pirates and Yankees got into a heated exchange regarding this very topic.  The small market teams argue that posting fees should count against the luxury tax and the large market clubs want things to remain the same.   

All this will really come to a head in 2016 when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and a new one will need to be renegotiated.  The entire posting system with Japan and additionally the signing of megastars from Cuba have put the entire salary structure with teams in a state of confusion.  With Cuban signees and Asian stars released through bidding not counting against a team's luxury tax threshold, these loopholes have allowed richer clubs such as the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and now the White Sox (with Jose Abeu's signing),  to rebuild their clubs without some luxury tax complications.  Imagine how the Dodgers would have done this past season without Puig.


So today I was getting my softball equipment together, because I have a tournament on Saturday and my stuff was packed away in the garage since September when I last played.  In the cornerI noticed a couple of bats that I had packed away.  They were baseball bats that I ordered on eBay a few years back.  Someone had them up for auction and they were cracked bats of minor leaguers.  I couldn’t even remember who the players were.  I just knew they were struggling minor league prospects and I paid next to nothing for them.

Looks like I hit the jackpot:

Josh Donaldson, who was hitting .238 at AAA Sacramento when I bought the bat just finished the 2013 season as an A.L. MVP finalist and a monster season with the Oakland A’s.  A 8.0 WAR (second in the League behind Trout), .883 OPS, 24 homers, .301 BA, .385 OBP.  I think I paid $10 for the bat.

The other bat was an Adam Rosales model.  A player that is struggling to hang on and make it to the majors.

I'll take one out of two.  I completely  forgot all about those bats.  It looks like I need to seek out Donaldson at Spring Training to see if I can get him to sign that thing.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

They Want Puig…Just Say "No" Ned

Recent news from the General Manager meetings about the Dodgers seem to be centered around interest other teams have in Yasiel Puig.

This isn't a surprise as Puig's upside and overall performance have turned out to be an absolute bargain.  Owed $3.714 million this coming season.  That's chump change for the Dodgers and also for most teams in the league outside of Oakland, Kansas City and Miami.  Even the remainder of Puig's contract is not overwhelming as it nearly doubles to $6.214 million in 2015, and then rises incrementally in the closing years of the deal: $7.214 million in 2016, $8.214 million in 2017 and $9.214 million in 2018.

Considering that the top tier players in the game will probably be making $30 million per season, a $9 million salary five years from now will be a super-bargain by then.  It's probably fair to say that the $42 million investment in Puig which was criticized across the board by baseball executives at the time, may have been the most astute move by the Dodger front office since Jackie Robinson.  Hear me out on this:

The flood gates to Cuba are now opening up to Major League Baseball.  Yes, there were other Cuban players before Puig, and some good ones at that (i.e. Cespedes, Chapman, el Duque, ), but none of those previous Cuban arrivals has had such a superstar arrival and impact on the game as the Dodger right fielder.  The Puig move has changed that as evidenced by the Chisox signing of Cuban stud first baseman Jose Abreu and the Dodger's inking of Alexander Guerrero this off-season.

There are some bloggers clamoring for a Puig trade and I understand their logic in that they believe that his value is real high and they don't think it may not get much higher.  This is where I disagree.

Puig is so young and raw.  He has so much room for growth.  Essentially his ceiling is in the stratosphere.  Dealing him away right now would be akin to what the Dodgers did in 1955 and that was leave Roberto Clemente unprotected from the Rule 5 draft.  I realize that a deal for a superstar like Giancarlo Stanton in Miami would be a fine player received in return, but the five tools of Puig that haven't quite sharpened completely.  Stanton is an all star talent but the potential that Puig brings simply cant be overlooked.

A trade of Puig would be regarded in the same vein as the deals that sent away Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez a few years before.  This franchise has been the victim of some real one sided doozies.  It's time for that to stop.  Puig is our guy, and even with an expected sophomore slump that we probably will see in 2014, this guy needs to be a Dodger for years to come. Right now, his contract has set him up for that.

The coaching staff will have to continue to work with him and break the wild horse a bit.  They'll need to get him to play smarter baseball and without the level of recklessness that we saw this year.  That will definitely be a chore, but Mattingly admitted that his staff will have to do a better job of that.  They recognize the challenge and will work on it.  In the end, it will pay off significantly.

Yasiel was able to make adjustments.  He listened to McGwire and worked counts later in the season and actually walked some.  He started hitting cut off men.  He backed off some outfield fences and actually heeded to the dangers of the warning track.  His adjustments reminded me of a young Roberto Clemente, who broke into the big leagues in 1955 with the Pirates.

Clemente was on the major league roster because he had to remain there all season, due to the rule five requirement that he remain with the big club all season.  Roberto should have been getting more seasoning in the minors, but the 20-year old had no choice and he started out in the majors with a bang. Not to the .450 batting average extent that Puig initially did, but after 17 games, Clemente was hitting .338, and for a 20 year old kid getting a fresh start in the Majors, with virtually no English skills and not any support staff to help him acclimate to the new culture, that was an amazing start.

Eventually the league caught up to him.  Scouting reports spread and his weaknesses were exploited.  Clemente was a free swinger and he was striking out or popping out to balls thrown outside of the strike zone.  In his rookie year, he only walked 18 times in over 500 plate appearances and he finished the year hitting .255.

The Pirates were the only team in the league that had a club policy that required all there batters to wear batting helmets.  This was an edict from their General Manager Branch Rickey who realized that protecting his investments (players) was in his ball club's best interest.  It was reported that the young budding superstar, Clemente, had a short fuse and was taking up the habit of angrily breaking his batting helmets.

His former teammate Tom Saffell talked about it years later: 

“He would come back to the dugout and take the helmet off and sit it on the board floor and he would jump up and down on it.  He must have ruined 15 helmets.   Fred Haney (the Pirate manager) finally told him, ‘Every time you ruin a helmet, you have to pay for it.’  That stopped him.”

Aside from the batting helmet issue, Clemente was slow to adjust to the majors.  Had he had the supporting staff that a player like Puig has today, which included a 24 hour translator and teacher in the first months of his acclimation to the U.S.,  there's little doubt that he would have succeeded much earlier in his career.  A look back at Clemente's first five season's in the majors it is plainly seen that his adjustment was slow and then he got it.  In 1960 he took off on a Hall of Fame career.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Puig with Clemente's beginnings as a major leaguer, but the parallels are there.  These men, though from incredibly different generations and substantial changes with regard to player salaries both got to the majors in similar paths.  They both are five tool guys and forced into the big leagues at a young age.  Roberto had his struggles because of the era he lived in due to segregation and the lack of support structure in the game.  Yasiel has the advantage that he doesn't have to deal with those negative distractions, but he had the modern day distractions of fame and concentration issues.  

We'll see how it plays out, but with the potential areas for growth in Puig's game, I truly believe he could be the next Roberto Clemente if he keeps his focus as a ball player.  That potential alone is reason why Puig cannot be traded.


Congratulations to Clayton Kershaw who won the Cy Young Award in a near unanimous vote.  Kershaw placed first on 29 of 30 ballots.  The lone second place vote he received was from Mark Schmetzer of Reds Report out of Cincinnati.  I guess he has some explaining to do.  The only other surprise I see in the voting results is Greinke's distant finish in 8th place.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Upcoming Rookie of the Year Announcement Should Be Puig…and Here's Why

Two years ago Ryan Braun won the National League MVP award over a statistically superior Matt Kemp because Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) members used the logic that Braun accomplished his numbers for a team in more meaningful games in the midst of a pennant race.  Many Dodger fans were outraged, but the deal was done, and even after it was discovered that Braun had cheated his way to his award through the use of performance enhancing drugs, there wasn’t anything that could change the outcome of the vote.
(photo by USA Today Sports)

Playing games in a pennant chase is definitely a different animal, but should a player that plays for team out of contention, but excels against the league as a whole be punished for that?  It didn’t seem fair that Kemp, who came a homer shy of a 40/40 season would be punished for that, but he was.  It could be argued that the Dodgers weren’t out of the race for the whole season and if Kemp had been absent from the team, they certainly would have finished much deeper in the standings than their 82-79 third place finish. 

In all fairness, you can’t have it both ways, and as the National League Rookie of the Year is named later this week, it is fairly certain that the BBWAA will contradict themselves and vote Jose Fernandez of the last place Marlins the award.  Fernandez’ numbers are impressive, and he is certainly deserving of awards, but pitching for a team that finished 62-100 and 34 games out of first place, there is the question of how much pressure he pitched under.  
(photo by Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)
When Yasiel Puig arrived to the Dodgers in June, the team was in dead last and had been written off for the year by most fans and pundits.  There is little doubt that his arrival played a major role in changing the Dodger team spirit, outlook and confidence.

The true measure of a player’s value to a team is what he does to get his team to contend, and there’s little doubt that Puig brought energy and a different attitude to a lackluster last place Dodger team when he arrived from Chattanooga a full 55 games into the season.  The winning percentage numbers don’t line. The Dodgers ended the season at a .644 clip with Puig on the roster.  It was even better in games that he played. There were immeasurable factors too that few recognized by looking at a stat sheet.  How do you measure energizing your teammates with hustle and youthful exuberance?   How do you determine the value of creating a loose clubhouse with laughter and positive vibes?  Is it possible to gauge the intensity he brought to the team in those crucial pennant chase games down the stretch?

The Puig factor was a real thing and it influenced the entire roster and changed their attitudes in 2013.  Yes, Hanley Ramirez was superior statistically, but the Uribe/Puig/Ramirez tandem was a true phenomenon that played a large role in carrying the Dodgers to the Division Championship.

It is understandable why Fernandez will win the Rookie of the Year Award, but I contend that he shouldn’t.  Then again, it’s time for me to admit something.  As much as I wanted to vote for Puig in the IBWAA vote, I placed Fernandez in the # 1 slot for ROY, and probably for two reasons.  1) because I hadn’t thought the process through as seriously as I am now and 2) in an effort to show that my votes were impartial and free of bias, I felt that by voting for Fernandez I would be displaying a professional slant, void of a prejudice favoring a player from my favorite team.

Yes, I know.  Stupid reasoning.  Absolutely stupid.

Yasiel Puig was the Rookie of the Year.  He won’t win the award and this might have been the most valuable rookie season by a  Dodger since Fernando Valenzuela.  That’s saying a lot too, but which of those many Rookies of the Year winners in Dodger history were influential in leading their team to the playoffs?  Piazza? Karros? Sax? Sutcliffe? Howe? Mondesi?

Puig did it and he won’t even win the award.