Part 1 of the process of the Dodgers possibly returning to their former glory occurred Monday when the greedy money grubbing part owner formerly known as Jamie McCourt, now Jamie Luskin, did what she does best, took the money and ran. The Dodgers were once the model franchise in all of sports, and the envy of owners and fans throughout the sports world. And it was all for 1 simple reason, they did things the “Dodger Way,” and no one else did.
We’re talking about the organization who had the foresight, integrity and character to do what no other team in baseball dared do, break the color barrier. The courageous and monumental act of allowing Jackie Robinson, a black man in an white man’s sport, to play professional baseball would change the landscape of the sports world.
It also served a much greater cause, Robinson became a symbol for civil rights across the county on a national stage, and by simply taking the field with his white teammates, he would aid the civil rights movement in a unique way no other individual could. (For more on Robinson’s impact on the Civil Rights movement check out this tribute to Jackie I wrote back in April)
This background helps to provide some context regarding The Dodger Way, and the hope that the franchise will someday regain its unique former glory. Dodgers first base coach Davey Lopes spoke about the noticeable difference upon his return to the Dodgers earlier this Spring, when he told Bill Plaschke of the LA Times:
"“He (Lopes) looked around the stadium and shook his head and was like, ‘Man, what happened here? Lopes recalled. Didn’t this used to be the Dodgers?”"
Lopes is the perfect person to illustrate just how messed up the Dodgers are right now. He came to the team after spending several years with the Phillies. He has seen firsthand, both how to run an organization, and how not to. His comments demonstrate the amount of damage an owner and wife who’s top priority is using the franchises resources to fuel an extravagant lifestyle they can’t afford, vs. spending every resource on putting a winning product on the field, can do.
What happened to the Dodgers, wasn’t exactly what Dodgers fans had in mind, when Frank McCourt promised Dodgers fans:
"“Family ownership has returned to the Dodgers…”"
…when he became the owner in 2004. Unfortunately for Dodgers fans “family ownership” to the McCourt’s wasn’t the same type of commitment to the franchise and its fans as family ownership under the O’Malley family, who helped foster The Dodger Way. Under the McCourt’s The Dodger Way became the polar opposite of what it was supposed to be.
Jamie’s comments below demonstrate just how far removed she and Frank are from The Dodger Way. In a court declaration Jamie made the following statement:
"“Frank and I enjoyed the many perquisites and benefits that come with owning a Major League Baseball team”"
Thanks to Bill Shaikin of the LA Times, Jamie then went on to list just what those many “perquisites and benefits” were in the minds of the McCourts:
"She wrote of combined salaries of $7 million per year, plus $46 million to buy side-by-side oceanfront estates in Malibu, $27 million to buy side-by-side homes near the Playboy Mansion, additional properties in Massachusetts, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Mexico, $400 dinners and $1,000 per-night hotels, private jet travel around the world, even house calls from hairdressers and makeup artists."
Does that sound like anything aside from the complete opposite of The Dodger Way? Oh and in case there is any confusion, all of those “perquisites and benefits that come with owning a Major League Baseball team,” were purchased by the McCourt’s courtesy of revenues from the Dodgers, in other-words the hard earned cash of Dodgers fans. It’s so insulting that her mentality about the Dodgers was that they were nothing more than a resource for her and her husbands extravagant lifestyle, and she is completely serious when she says it and feels like she is completely justified in doing so.
The Dodgers did succeed initially, facing the Phillies in back to back National League Championships in 2008 and 2009. However, just examine the Phillies and the Dodgers since, and you can see the difference stable ownership has on a franchise vs. what bankruptcy has done to the Dodgers.
In classic McCourt “it’s all about us and not about the franchise” fashion, the couple announced they were splitting up on the eve of the 2009 NLCS, accomplishing just what they wanted in the process, taking the attention away from the series and putting it on themselves. From that moment on the Phillies and Dodgers headed in opposite directions. Lopes sums it up the best: (Again from the Plaschke article)
"“Let’s just say it’s been a role reversal,” the Dodgers used to be the model organization … now that’s the Phillies.”Lopes played for the Dodgers when they won a World Series title, coached the Phillies when they won a World Series title, then returned home last winter as the Dodgers’ first base coach, rolling up his sleeves and shaking his head.“It’s disheartening; it’s really sad to see,” he said. “I knew there were some problems here, but I had no idea of the damage that had been done to this organization.”“We were such a proud organization, but now … when the O’Malleys sold the team, they took the heart and soul of the Dodgers with them,” Lopes said.“I mean, at one point, either team could have gone to the World Series, they were both that close,” he said. “But now, you look at what the Phillies have done since then; you look at what’s happened to the Dodgers, it’s really hard to imagine.”The best way to imagine is to look at the teams’ lineups and dugouts during that 2009 NLCS, and look at them now. With solid ownership spending scads of money, the Phillies have gone from contenders to favorites. With bankrupt ownership spending buffoon money on mansions and manicures, the Dodgers have gone from contenders to just plain creepy."
It’s hard to put it any more appropriately than Lopes and Plaschke, but there’s so much more. Under the McCourt regime, the Dodgers have spent less on player development, IE the MLB draft and international signings, than any other franchise in baseball. Instead choosing to spend Dodgers fans hard earned money on personal items such as Frank’s $40,000 per month rent. Yes the bankrupt owner continues to live in a $40K per month lavish condo, instead of perhaps spending that money to find the next Adrian Beltre or Pedro Martinez in international player development.
It’s a testament to just how great Logan White and the rest of the Dodgers scouts and player development people are, that the Dodgers have as many young, talented players on the roster, as well as youngsters ready to take the next step and make the teams Major League roster. In 2011, while Frank was approaching the $700 million dollar threshold in debt accrued since taking over as owner, the Dodgers had numerous young prospects make significant contributions at the MLB level.
Kenley Jansen set an MLB record for highest Strikeouts per 9 Innings Pitched, over 16, and has established himself as one of the most dominant relievers in all of MLB. Not bad for someone who was a catcher as recently as 2009. Javy Guerra came up from AA and became the Dodgers closer, converting 21 out of 23 save opportunities, although many were a little more stressful than they needed to be.
Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom both had ERA’s under 2.75 and demonstrated that they are ready to contribute to the bullpen right now. Rubby De La Rosa arrived on the scene and actually had better numbers through his first 50 innings pitched than either Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley, as well as leading ALL of MLB with the fastest average fastball at just over 96 MPH.
But perhaps a victim of the McCourt Karma, young Rubby had to have Tommy John Surgery and will be lost for most, if not all of 2012. Every time I hear that news I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Rubby showed such great poise on the mound and was developing simply nasty off-speed pitches, and I dare say his changeup was the best Chavez Ravine had seen since the glory days of Eric Gagne`.
Nathan Eovaldi came out of nowhere to make 6 impressive starts. He has an electric fastball, but he definitely needs to refine his off=speed stuff, yet he certainly appears to be another potentially solid young starter at the ripe age of 21 years old. And I haven’t even mentioned Clayton Kershaw who won the triple crown for starting pitchers in the National League, leading the league in Wins with 21, ERA with an amazing 2.28, and Strikeouts 248, in just over 233 innings pitched. At just 23 years old, it’s scary to say but his best years are ahead of him.
On the hitting side we’re all familiar with the amazing season Matt Kemp had, leading the NL in HR with 39, RBI with 126, Runs 115, and just missing out on the first triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, finishing 3rd with a .324 batting average. Oh he also added 40 stolen bases for good measure, registered a career high 75 walks and led all centerfielders with 11 outfield assists. He is the true definition of a 5 tool player, in fact he’s more like an 8 tool player than just 5.
In Kemp and Kershaw the Dodgers have 2 once in a generation talents, and despite everything Frank McCourt has done to this organization they simply cannot afford to lose either of these players. Kemp can be a free-agent after the 2012 season and the Dodgers need to spend whatever money possible to lock both he and Kershaw up so they BOTH spend their entire careers with the Dodgers. They both love being Dodgers, they both want to remain with the Dodgers and priority #1 needs to be getting them BOTH signed long-term, whether Frank McCourt is the owner or not.
It’s disgusting to think that Jamie, she who “enjoyed the many perquisites and benefits that come with owning a Major League Baseball team,” was awarded $130 million dollars to divorce Frank. Dodgers fans have suffered many injustices at the hands of Mr. McCourt but Jamie better not end up with $130 million, most of which will again come from Dodgers revenues, while someone like say the Yankees pay Kemp $130 million dollars because somehow Frank McCourt remains the owner of the Dodgers and he can’t afford to pay Kemp because of all the money he’s blown “enjoying the many perquisites and benefits that come with owning a Major League Baseball team.”
Anyway I digress, Dee Gordon and Jerry Sands both proved during their second go around with the Dodgers in 2011 that they deserve starting jobs with the club in 2012. Gordon is clearly the short stop of the future, as he hit over .300 and stole 24 bases in just 56 games. He finished in the top 30 in all of MLB in stolen bases, despite playing 100 less games than the players he’s ranked with. Although he has a lot of work to do on his defense, his speed and youthful exuberance were a welcome addition to the Dodgers in 2011.
Sands who skyrocketed through the Dodgers minor league system in 2010, was promoted far too early in the season and had to suffer the injustice of having to sit on the bench while the likes of Jay Gibbons played. He was sent back down and when he came back up in September all he did was hit, for average and power and he showed he belonged.
James Loney appeared to break out of his year long funk and had a resurgent second half, it’s not coincidental that he was hitting in front of Matt Kemp when he finally started producing, but if he can keep hitting doubles, driving in runs, while playing a gold glove caliber defense then he’s made a strong case to return to the Dodgers in 2012.
Andre Ethier on the other hand had a strange season. It began with a 30 game hitting streak early in the season, and ended with him having season ending knee surgery and calling out the Dodgers for supposedly forcing him to play while injured, although he eventually retracted those comments.
Ethier is under team control for 2012, and like Kemp this year, should have a chip on his shoulder and something serious to prove. The Dodgers have serious questions at second base, third base, although they are stuck with Juan Uribe and his 16+ Million over the next 2+ years, and catcher. It seems A.J. Ellis will finally get his long overdue opportunity behind the plate and split time with young Tim Federowicz who came over in the controversial Trayvon Robinson trade.
One player who is very intriguing is Alex Castellanos, the 25 year old prospect acquired in the Rafael Furcal trade. He had a breakout 2011 campaign while he was still with the Cardinals, and all he did once he joined the Dodgers AA squad in Chattanooga was continue to hit, for both power and average. He was initially drafted as a second baseman, and played there as recently as 2009.
He was last seen destroying pitching in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, with a .379 batting average and 6 extra-base hits, including 3 HR in just 29 at-bats. He played his last game on October 12th, collecting 3 hits for the second straight day, then suddenly he was replaced on his clubs roster by Brian Cavazos-Galvez.
News surfaced Wednesday that he has a strained Oblique, which is why he was pulled from the AFL.(Thanks to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com for finally solving the mysterious disappearance of Castellanos from the AFL) However, just prior to AC being removed from his AFL roster a story surfaced on MLB.com also from Ken Gurnick, that according to Don Mattingly the Dodgers were thinking about moving AC back to second base.
"Acquired in the Rafael Furcal trade, Castellanos is already off to a hot start, with three homers in seven games. Mattingly said Castellanos might be tried at second base after playing primarily in right field, although he started his pro career as an infielder. As a hitter, his 23 homers and 102 runs scored this year have management intrigued. He was the Texas League runner-up in batting (.319) and slugging (.562)."
This is a huge stretch but last prospect Ned Colletti acquired via trade who had this much success in the Texas League was Andre Ethier. Now I’m not going to say AC is the next Ethier but like Ethier he was also 24 when he was acquired. Castellanos turned 25 a couple weeks after becoming a Dodger, and like Ethier was considered ‘Old’ for the level he was playing at. On another note wouldn’t it be nice to be 25 years old and be considered old?
AC certainly had a breakout year in 2011, and if he can handle the move defensively to second base, it’s not out of the question he could be the Dodgers 2012 starting second baseman. At 5-10 and 180 pounds he fits the bill physically of a second baseman more so than a right fielder. As you examine his stats as a second baseman in the minors, they aren’t eye poppingly good, but they aren’t bad either.
He will spend as much time as possible between now and Spring Training working at 2B. He has played 55 games in the minors at 2B with 16 errors, a fielding percentage of .969 and a range factor just under 4.4. If you compare that to 2011 MLB second basemen his range factor would compare similarly to the Angels Howie Kendrick, and his fielding percentage would be in the Rickie Weeks range.
The Dodgers would certainly live with that if they got anywhere near Kendrick/Weeks like production from AC at the plate, who projects as a power bat in the middle of the diamond, if moved to 2B. Again the concern is that Dee Gordon has some defensive liabilities, 10 errors in 218 total chances, which gives him a .954 fielding percentage, among the worst of all MLB short stops. So do the Dodgers sacrifice defense at both middle infield positions in order to take advantage of Gordon’s speed? Obviously yes. And AC’s power? Hopefully yes.
Ned Colletti has already stated in an interview with Ramona Shelburne at ESPN.com that the 2012 Dodgers:
"“Can go younger at a few positions with guys that have shown they have a chance to play at this level right now. If you can do that, as you balance out your roster and balance out your finances, you’ve got a chance to do some other things.”"
I highly doubt that the “other things” would consist of signing Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, since the Dodgers need to spend that money on Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier first, but Castellanos could give them even more financial flexibility to go after say Aramis Ramirez, who at 33 years old bounced back from an injury plagued 2010 season to put up his typical .300 batting average, 25+ homers, and 100 RBI. That is exactly the kind of bat the Dodgers need to compliment Kemp and Ethier.
And if you listen to Mattingly’s interview with Mason & Ireland on ESPN 710, he clearly states the top priority for the Dodgers this off-season is a bat, and despite how well Juan Rivera performed once he came over from Toronto this year, Mattingly is refreshingly honest in that he views Rivera as an 80 RBI a year guy, not the 100+ RBI guy he was on pace for once he became a Dodger. It’s really cool to hear a manager be that honest and it tells me the Dodgers may very well avoid the mistakes they made this off-season by signing Rod Barajas because of the 6 good weeks he gave them at the end of 2010, and giving up on Russell Martin in the process.
Regardless of how things play out in the courts, the Dodgers remarkably appear to be just a couple of key pieces away from being serious contenders in the NL West in 2012, despite everything Frank McCourt has done to damage the franchise. A bat is a must, as is another starting pitcher, especially if Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t resign. The bullpen looks to be set, with several young power arms in Shawn Tolleson, Steven Ames, and Cole St Clair, all knocking on the door.
Tolleson, the Dodgers 2011 minor league pitcher of the year, in particular has the chance to make a big impact. All he did was put up a ridiculous 1.17 ERA over 3 levels, with 25 saves and 105 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched. Opponents hit just .206 off of him and if Javy Guerra struggles at all, and the Dodgers decide Kenley Jansen is more valuable in his role as the set-up guy, then Tolleson may very well be the Dodgers closer of the future. He certainly has the dominant stuff to fill that role.
The first domino fell in what will be a critical off-season for the Dodgers, Frank and Jamie settled their divorce. She will no longer be around to “enjoy the many perquisites and benefits that come with owning a Major League Baseball team,” in her case sucking the Dodgers revenues dry. The scouting department, Logan White in particular, has done a tremendous job of adding quality young depth, particularly on the pitching side, despite extremely limited resources.
And now we literally just have to sit back and see how the court proceedings play out. Dodgers fans have suffered enough over the past couple of years, and despite Frank’s, and in some cases Ned Colletti’s, best efforts to the to the contrary,(Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Juan Uribe, Carlos Santana etc…) the Dodgers have a young core of talented players who they have control of at least through the 2012 season.
They should admit their mistake and make Juan Uribe one of the highest paid utility players, and go find a legitimate third baseman. And who knows they just might end up with a legitimate owner after all is said and done as well, and just maybe The Dodger Way will start to return to Chavez Ravine.
Here’s hoping MLB and it’s lawyers can convince U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross to do the right thing, and return the Dodgers and it’s fans to an owner who’s first priority is putting the best possible product on the field and not “enjoying the many perquisites and benefits that come with owning a Major League Baseball team.” Like private jets, 7 houses, renting $40,000 per moth luxury condos, and on and on and on…