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February 21, 2010
On the Beat
The Dodgers came across during the offseason as a franchise paralyzed by owner Frank McCourt serving divorce papers to his wife Jamie (who was also the club's CEO), a move that, of all things, came to light in the midst of the team's loss to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series last October.
The Dodgers made no major free-agent signings in the winter. They made no significant trades. They didn't even offer salary arbitration to any of their five free agents, eschewing draft pick compensation for fear the players might accept the offer and add to the payroll.
The Dodgers acting like a small-market club was one of the biggest topics of conversations in baseball circles throughout the winter. Executives and scouts found it hard to believe the Dodgers would go into shell after losing in the NLCS two years in a row, and speculation was rampant that general manager Ned Colletti was ordered to sit tight.
However, Colletti says it was the Dodgers' plan all along to have a quiet offseason, even before word of the McCourts' divorce became public.
"Considering the team we ended the season with, which we obviously felt was a very good team, we just wanted to fine tune it this winter," Colletti said. "We didn't have a lot of needs or holes to feel. We liked the club we had. Really, our biggest priority was rebuilding the bench, which we were able to do."
Indeed, the Dodgers did add a couple of spare parts in infielder Jamey Carroll and outfielder Reed Johnson as free agents while retaining Ronnie Belliard, who took the second baseman's job away from Orlando Hudson during last season's stretch drive. Belliard will compete with Blake DeWitt for the starting job this spring.
The logic behind not going after a big hitter was understandable, as the Dodgers were fourth in the NL with an average of 4.8 runs a game last season and the only free agent in the lineup was Hudson, who had become completely marginalized by October. Thus, the Dodgers did not need a bat and did sign center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier to two-year contracts to avoid arbitration.
The Dodgers also led the major leagues by allowing just 3.8 runs a game last season. However, a case could be made that the Dodgers should have bid to retain left-hander Randy Wolf as a free agent after he finished second on the staff with a 6.1 SNLVAR behind Clayton Kershaw's 6.6.
Wolf was particularly important in the second half when Chad Billingsley struggled after earning a berth on the NL All-Star team. However, the Dodgers decided not to pursue Wolf and will go with a rotation of Kershaw, Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla and, likely, James McDonald.
"We feel the pitching is something that can develop as the season goes on," Colletti said. "Kershaw needs to get even better and Billinsgley is capable of pitching better. I don't see our pitching staff as a weakness by any means."
While their reluctance to even engage Wolf in talks was seen as a sign of financial problems to some, Colletti said it was a matter of baseball sense. Wolf eventually signed a three-year, $29.75-million contract with the Brewers.
"The reason I didn't offer him arbitration was because I was not to prepared to pay him $12 million-$13 million in an arbitration hearing, and people I've talked to who know him say he would have taken the offer and gone to a hearing," Colletti said. "And I certainly wasn't prepared to go $8 million or $9 million a year for three years. I just wasn't going to do that."
The announcement this past week that Indians GM Mark Shapiro would move up to the role of club president at the end of season and be replaced by assistant GM Chris Antonetti hardly came as a surprise. Speculation concerning that possibility had run rampant for years and Antonetti's reluctance to interview for many of the GM jobs that opened in recent years only gave more credence to the idea.
Indians president Paul Dolan already knew he wanted to make the switch at the end of last season, which is why Antonetti played a big hand in the hiring of Manny Acta to replace the fired Eric Wedge as manager.
Though Antonetti has been groomed for the job since becoming assistant GM following the 2001 season when Shapiro was promoted from assistant GM to replace John Hart, he admits that it will be a daunting task once he officially takes over the duties in October.
"Ultimately you can never simulate sitting in the GM's chair until you're actually in it," Antonetti said. "But with the opportunities I've been afforded over the last several years, it's given me a good set of experiences to take that next step."
Shapiro will spend quite a bit of time this season preparing to move into his new job as will Antonetti, which leads to the question of exactly who will be making the baseball decisions. However, Shapiro said the delineation of decision-making duties will be simple: If the decision concerns only this season, he'll make it, if it has an impact on the future then Antonetti makes the call.
Antonetti's ascension is remarkable considering that it was just 13 years ago that he was beginning his front-office career as an unpaid with the Expos' High-A West Palm Beach farm club in the Florida State League after serving as head manager for the Georgetown basketball team and legendary coach John Thompson. One of Antonetti's duties was serving as an ice cream vendor. He received a quarter for each item he sold.
"Drumsticks were my big seller," Antonetti said. "There were usually 100-150 people in the stands. It's not hard to figure out how I was doing."
All the attention being paid to the Cardinals' off-season hiring of Mark McGwire as their hitting coach overshadows the fact that they are considered heavy favorites to win the NL Central for a second straight season. PECOTA pegs the Cardinals to finish nine games ahead of the Cubs, the largest margin of victory for any of the projected winners in the major leagues' six divisions.
"We have such a solid core," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell. "You just look at where this team is headed and it's easy to envision success when you have that sort of group."
Mozeliak was able to keep the core intact by retaining the biggest free agent of the offseason as he re-signed Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120-million contract. Mozeliak has been beaten up in some circles for bidding significantly more on Holliday than any other club but he insists agent Scott Boras would have had the slugger sign a one-year deal with another club then reenter the open market after this season.
"Look, I know the under bidder in this case was not even close to what we ended up signing him for but we had to get to a level where he was willing to jump in long term with us," Mozeliak said. "If we failed to get to that level, I know he was willing to go somewhere else for one year. Now with that said, we end with no player. Now from an industry standpoint, they would all say, 'Well, good for the Cardinals, they stood up to the Evil Empire.' Then we walk away but it didn't do anything for us in terms of talent or how we replace him in terms of talent. It we didn't re-sign Matt, it wasn't as simple as we just to trade for someone or look to our minor-league system for that player."
Because it wouldn't be baseball season without talking about money at some point, here are the projected Opening Day payrolls for the 30 major-league clubs:
Yankees: $200 million
The disparity in payrolls never grows any smaller-the Yankees will spend 556 percent more on player salaries this season than the Pirates-despite Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing system that Commissioner Bud Selig vigorously pats himself on the back about instituting every chance he gets. His latest opportunity came this past week when he attended the annual Governor's Dinner at Tropicana Field, home of the low-budget Rays.
"We're going to do over $450 million in revenue sharing this season," Selig told the St. Petersburg Times' Joe Smith. "Remember when I took over? We did none, zero. It's not perfect, I know work has to be done, with another labor negotiation coming up (in 2011), but at least there's been an enormous amount of progress. For the most part, it's worked out well. I understand that there are some clubs that don't like it and I understand their reasons but it wasn't done just mercurially."
Those close to the situation insist that the Major League Baseball Players Association is going to make revenue sharing a large part of the negotiations on the next collective bargaining agreement. The MLBPA would ideally like to see the plan scrapped entirely and is going to push for changes that force teams to spend more the money that changes hands from the high-revenue clubs to the low-revenue clubs to be spend on player payroll at the major-league level along with a more detailed accounting of the spending.
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Free agent catcher Rod Barajas has resigned himself to the fact he will have to accept a minor-league contract and is choosing whether to signing with the Rangers to serve as the backup to either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Taylor Teagarden, or sign with the Mets and jump into a free-for-fall for the starting job with Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, and Omir Santos. … Astros GM Ed Wade, commenting on any potential ramifications after beating left-hander Wandy Rodriguez in a salary arbitration hearing: "He's a great kid who is still going to be making a great salary at $5 million, and I told him that hopefully he'll have another good year and make even bigger numbers next year." … Colletti told Seth Everett and Jim Duquette on XM/Sirius' Power Alley show that the Dodgers decided not to offer a contract to free agent pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, who eventually signed with the Nationals, because he and his scouts were only able to watch the rehabbing right-hander throw in a parking lot: "He had good command, though, and he didn't hit any cars or anything."