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October 19, 2008

Every Given Sunday

Down to the Wire

by John Perrotto

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The Dodgers' up-and-down season ended with a five-game loss to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. Now, the real fun begins for the Dodgers, who will have an extremely busy offseason with 12 of their players eligible for free agency. One certainty, though, is that general manager Ned Colletti will be there to oversee all of the activity. Owner Frank McCourt silenced speculation that Colletti would be fired following the Game Five loss to the Phillies that eliminated the Dodgers; the GM has one year left on his contract as things now stand. McCourt also made it clear that expectations are high now that LA came within three wins of their first World Series appearance in 20 years. "At some point in time, organizations need to stop talking about winning and go win," McCourt said. "That's what we've accomplished this year. Now we have to move forward. We've tasted winning. We're not going to let that slip away."

McCourt would not say if he would be offering Colletti an extension, but he did refute speculation about adding a president of baseball operations that would be above the GM in the chain of command. McCourt also had praise for Colletti and manager Joe Torre for leading the Dodgers to their first post-season series win since 1988 as they swept the Cubs in the National League Division Series. "What we've accomplished is something significant for the organization," McCourt said. "We've turned a big corner. I'm proud of Ned and all the people in the front office. I'm proud of Joe and all the coaches. I couldn't be more pleased with the job everybody has done."

The most notable of the Dodgers' many free agents is left fielder Manny Ramirez, who led the team in VORP with 47.6, despite not being acquired until July 31 from the Red Sox in a three-team trade. He also had a .404 EqA while hitting .396/.489/.743 in 229 plate appearances, and posted a .520/.667/1.080 line in 36 post-season at-bats. Ramirez gave no indication after Game Five as to what he is thinking about free agency. Agent Scott Boras reportedly is going to seek a six-year contract even though Ramirez is 36 years old. "We'll see what happens in the offseason," Ramirez said. "We'll see what's out there for me."

Ramirez did make it clear that the cult-hero status he achieved in Southern California during his time with the Dodgers isn't going to be a factor in his decision-making process, just as it wasn't when he left the Indians as a free agent following the 1999 season to sign an eight-year, $160 million contract with the Red Sox. The Dodger fans chanted 'stay Manny, stay,' during the latter stages of the Game Five loss at Dodger Stadium. "The fans in Cleveland my last year wanted to me to stay, too" Ramirez said. "I am just going to enjoy my offseason." Torre wants Ramirez back, but realizes the Dodgers will likely face stiff competition. "Manny is a great player but Manny has to do what is best for him and his family," Torre said. "I don't know what club wouldn't want Manny Ramirez." Torre also feels that the Dodgers' off-season focus must go beyond keeping Ramirez. "I know we all get caught up in the offensive part of this game, but I certainly think that pitching is something that really should be front and center as far as being addressed," Torre said.

It is understandable, though, that the Dodgers would be more focused on the offense; they finished 24th in the major leagues with an average of 4.32 runs scored per game, and second in runs allowed with a 3.99 average. Right-hander Derek Lowe is eligible for free agency after finishing fourth in the NL with 6.9 SNLVAR this season, and there has been talk that Lowe has felt unappreciated at times with the Dodgers and would prefer to leave the West Coast. The Dodgers also hold a $9.25 million club option on right-hander Brad Penny for next season that can be bought out for $2 million. Penny had 0.7 SNLVAR after ranking third in the NL last season with 7.3; his 2008 season was ruined by shoulder problems, and he did not stay with the Dodgers during the playoffs after being eliminated from consideration for the post-season roster when he was placed on the disabled list to clear a roster spot for shortstop Rafael Furcal. "He's been frustrated with his condition," Torre said. "He's a young man with a bright future, whether it's with us or somebody else."

Furcal, third baseman Casey Blake, and second baseman Jeff Kent are also eligible for free agency. Furcal was sensational this season with a .343 EqA, but was limited to 36 regular-season games because of back surgery. Blake had a .266 EqA in 58 games after being acquired from the Indians in a trade in late July. Kent, who was limited to pinch hitting in the postseason after having knee surgery, is leaning toward retirement following a season in which his EqA was .259.

Colletti will also need to resolve the futures of unproductive veteran outfielders Juan Pierre (.246 EqA), who has three years and $28.5 million remaining on his five-year, $44 million deal, and Andruw Jones (.170), who is owed $22.1 million on the two-year, $36 million pact that he signed as a free agent last winter. Pierre's agent, Mark Pieper, told the Los Angeles Times that his client would welcome a trade as he was relegated to the bench following the acquisition of Ramirez. McCourt's baseball people reportedly had to be talk him out of demanding that Jones refund part of his salary after such a poor season.

---

The Phillies and Rays could face each other in the World Series beginning Wednesday night, pending the outcome of tonight's Game Seven in the ALCS between Tampa Bay and the Red Sox. That would provide quite a bit of local flavor on Florida's Gulf Coast and Pinellas County; the Rays are based in St. Petersburg, and the Phillies have long trained in nearby Clearwater. The teams met during the exhibition season this year, with the Rays winning three of four games.

Rays manager Joe Maddon came away impressed with the Phillies, and is not surprised that they've made it to the World Series for the first time since 1993. "Just seeing them in spring training, my impression was they were more like an American League lineup," Maddon said. "I thought with their offense that they could pound the ball up and down the lineup. I was really impressed with that. I've always been a big fan of their MVP guys [Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and perhaps soon also Chase Utley], but I like [center fielder Shane] Victorino, also. He made a big impression on me in spring training. The thing I didn't know was how good their pitching was. You look at their bullpen, and of course [closer Brad] Lidge doing what he's done this year has been spectacular, but they're very solid throughout. They're a good ballclub."

On the other hand, there would be quite a bit of irony if the Red Sox advanced to play the Phillies. Red Sox manager Terry Francona's other stint as a major league skipper came with the Phils, who fired him following the 2000 season after he had compiled a 285-363 record in four years, his teams never finishing higher than third in the NL East.

Francona does not hold a grudge, and is happy that the Phillies won the NL pennant. "You can't spend four years in a place, whether you have success or not, and not get really close to people," Francona said. He is particularly thrilled about two holdovers from his Phillies' days, clubhouse manager Frank Coppenbarger and venerable chairman Bill Giles. "I wanted to see Frank Coppenbarger, and the camera went on him in the dugout after they clinched against the Dodgers and that was exciting for me to see him," Francona said. "I'm leaving out a lot of potential names, and that's not good because I have fondness for a whole lot of people in that organization beyond Frank and Bill, but Bill Giles really stands out. He's one of the dearest people I've ever come across. He wants everybody to do well, try their best. I can remember he would stand out on the field in Clearwater before the first home Grapefruit League game every year and proclaim that this is going to be the year. He believes in his heart that every year is going to be the Phillies' year, and I'm happy for him that it's now come true."

---

Thanks to their making such quick work of the Dodgers in the NLCS, the Phillies will have had a full week off before opening the World Series. Manager Charlie Manuel knows it is not an optimal situation. "It's concerning," Manuel said. "We're practicing, trying to stay sharp." The Rockies ran into the same problem last year when they swept the Diamondbacks in the NLCS and had to wait eight days before Game One of the World Series. The Red Sox then swept the Rockies, who had gone 7-0 in the postseason and had won 20 of their previous 21 games including the regular season.

The Phillies are confident that they won't succumb to such a fate. "I think this time is going to be good for us," Howard told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We'll come out ready to play." Phillies reliever Chad Durbin played for the Tigers in 2006 when they had six days off before the World Series after sweeping the Athletics in the ALCS. The Tigers then lost in five games to the Cardinals, who'd needed seven games to beat the Mets in the NLCS. "It was six days, but it flies by," Durbin said. "I don't think anything will change. If our mechanics aren't sound right now, they're not going to get sound before the end of the year."

Francona did not think the time off necessarily hurt the Rockies. "Actually, I thought we played pretty darn well," Francona said. "It's a long season, and I'm sure the Phillies are glad to have a few days off. I'm sure Charlie and his staff are doing everything they can to use it to their advantage." Maddon also agrees that the Phillies should not be at a disadvantage. "I'm sure they'll find the way to get sharp. You're not going to experience a letdown when you have a chance to play in the World Series," Maddon said. "Once that bell rings, I'm sure they're going to be ready."

---

Dale Sveum was thrown into the unenviable role of interim manager with just two weeks left in the regular season, and guided the Brewers to their first playoff berth in 26 years before they lost to the Phillies in the National League Division Series. He certainly wasn't rewarded for it, as he was told Friday that he would not be considered for the job on a permanent basis. General manager Doug Melvin, who agreed to a three-year contract extension that keeps him with the Brewers through 2012, said that a number of former major league managers have inquired about the job.

Melvin would prefer someone with experience after taking a flier on Yost prior to the 2003 season. "I'm a big believer that sometimes people are better the second time around," Melvin said. Sveum has never managed above the Double-A level and was a major league coach the last five years, including the last three with the Brewers. Sveum said he would almost certainly leave the organization despite Melvin saying he would recommend the next manager retain him on the coaching staff. "I just wish there wasn't so much emphasis put on veteran managers," Sveum told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I'll match my knowledge of baseball and my ability to slow the game down with anybody. The most disappointing part of it all is that I'm no longer going to wear a Brewers uniform. That hurts more than anything. I love the Brewers and the organization. Basically, my heart has been ripped out of my chest."

While Melvin is not saying which ex-managers have contacted him, a source with knowledge of the situation said that Ken Macha has already interviewed, but it is instructive to note the job was first offered to Macha before Yost was hired. Macha instead was promoted from third-base coach by the Athletics to replace fired manager Art Howe, and he served four years before being fired following the loss to the Tigers in the '06 ALCS. Also believed to be interested is Buck Showalter, who was a minor league manager with the Yankees when Melvin was their farm director. Showalter has been serving as an ESPN analyst and a special advisor to the Indians since being fired as the Rangers' manager in 2006.

---

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Padres are moving quickly in determining the trade market for right-hander Jake Peavy, and are likely to deal him before the winter meetings in December. The Padres want young pitching and middle infielders in return, and the Braves, Yankees, and Dodgers are ready to make aggressive offers, with the Yankees likely to include right-hander Phil Hughes in a package, and the Braves willing to part with shortstop Yunel Escobar. ... The Cubs are ready to offer a long-term contract extension to general manager Jim Hendry, whose contract expires after next season, after denying the Mariners permission to interview him for their GM vacancy. ... The Diamondbacks are not a lock to re-sign left-hander Randy Johnson as a free agent, and he could wind up returning to his native southern California, signing with the Dodgers or Angels. ... Dodgers right-hander Greg Maddux is said to be leaning towards retirement. ... Reliever Russ Springer wants to play at least one more year, and wold prefer to re-sign with the Cardinals. ... Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who finished the season with the Phillies after being released by the Padres, plans to return to his native Japan to play if he can't land a starting job in the major leagues.

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Diamondbacks player personnel director Jerry DiPoto is considered the favorite among the four finalists for the Mariners' GM job, a strong field that includes Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik, Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, and Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng. ... The Yankees are said to be "all in" on the free-agent market, and will make offers to Brewers left-hander CC Sabathia, Blue Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett, Lowe, and Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira. ... The Yankees say they plan to use right-hander Joba Chamberlain as a starting pitcher next season, hopefully ending the most over-reported story in baseball history.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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