July 30, 2014

Ben Sheets a Future Dodger?

Ben Sheets

It’s actually not as much of a long shot as you might first think.  Here’s why:

1.) The free agent market for starting pitchers is pretty thin.

2.) Ned Colletti doesn’t like offering contracts longer than three years to anyone.

3.) Ned likes signing players that have something to prove and giving them an incentive-laden contract (Orlando Hudson).

Now the Dodgers, like many teams, also have a history of giving big money contracts to starting pitchers that flame-out in notorious fashion, leaving the team on the hook for tens of millions of dollars (Jason Schmidt – 10 wins over three years, Darren Dreifort).  I’m not saying that Ben Sheets is the next in this line, but all teams need to be cautious with his medical history.  That may play into the Dodgers’ thought process when considering premiere free agent starters like John Lackey.

From ESPN:

Agent Casey Close said that Sheets is doing “very well” in his rehab from flexor tendon surgery and plans to be 100 percent by the start of spring training. Close also anticipates no shortage of interest from clubs in the coming weeks.

“We have already heard from a number of teams inquiring about Ben’s health and availability for 2010,” Close said in an e-mail Friday to ESPN.com. “I will tell you that he has a very good chance to be one of the most impactful free agents, without question.”

Now I’m a PR guy by trade, and that is classic agent-speak.  As Jerry Crasnick and his sources speculate in the article, I imagine Sheets will eventually sign late in the off-season when teams that don’t land some of the prominent free agents available come sniffing around, kicking the tires on Sheets and deciding how much of a gamble they’re willing to take on a rehabbing former All-Star. 

Given that Sheets’ injuries are known, I believe we’re looking at more of an Orlando Hudson contract situation, and think it’s totally plausible that he could end up a Dodger if he checks out medically and the deal is done late in the off-season.  Either way, it’s certainly going to be interesting!

Your Dodgers Home for Hot Stove League Action!

Well after a number of off-season vacations and a bout with a serious cough (which yours truly is still hanging on to), we’re back and ready to monitor and comment on all the the Hot Stove League activities and news surrounding your Los Angeles Dodgers.

A few weeks ago, Jon Weisman had a great post that summarizes some key considerations before emotionally responding to trade and free agent rumors in the months ahead, and it’s well worth taking the time to read.

And rather than go back and address old rumors, we’ll start fresh with the news of the day and our own thoughts on who would make the msot sense to add to the 2009-2010 roster, and at what price.  And of course, share your thoughts along the way!  Let’s make this a dialogue as we slowly make our way along the winding road to Spring Training.

Mark Loretta: Arcadia Little League Superstar

The Loretta Looper

Being a Dodger blogger, I obviously love to talk about the team and I really love to hear stories that speak to the character of Dodger players.  An old college friend of mine, Don, recently shared the following Little League anecdote about former Dodger (and NLDS hero) Mark Loretta with me, and he’s given me permission to post it here.

Loretta has always had the reputation of being a good guy, and it’s good to see that he’s apparently been this way since he was a kid:

“Loretta was my childhood hero! We all idolized him because he was the best at every sport. At recess in school, he was always the first guy picked when we picked teams. In fact, I was a big Dallas Cowboys fan because he was, and I wanted to be just like him. Anyway, we were teammates on the fearsome Arcadia Little League juggernaut, the Live Oak Bike Shop! I played 3B and 2B, and Mark was the shortstop. I also went to several Dodger games with Mark. In fact, he took me to a 1978 playoff game against the Phillies. It makes me very proud to see him in Dodger Blue.

In 1993, I ran into our old little league coach, Bob Fickas. He said to me, “Don! I talk about you all the time! I still coach, and I always tell my team about the best player I ever coached!” I replied, “Well if you do that, then you tell them about Mark Loretta.” He was so much better than the rest of us, it wasn’t even funny. We all knew that if any of us had a chance to play in MLB, it would be him. He was also a great guy. Very mature for his age, precociously intelligent, humble, and very, very nice.”

Regardless of whether or not Ned decides to bring Mark Loretta back for another year, it’s good to see that he’s going after players of character that truly want to be part of the Dodger organization.

Orlando Hudson and The New Business of Baseball

Orlando Hudson
Orlando Hudson, the former D-Backs second baseman who replaced the now retired Jeff Kent on the Dodgers roster this off-season, may very well be the face of things to come in the business of Major League Baseball.

Hudson, who had a wrist injury last season that likely limited his prospects during the off-season, was reported to have been offered $29 million over four years by the Diamondbacks to remain with the franchise. Many have suspected that Hudson turned down this offer partly because he was focused on securing a deal in either New York or Los Angeles before the free agent market disintegrated.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have exerted extraordinary patience this off-season when chasing free agents. The Manny Ramirez negotiations in particular have shown how the Dodgers have been willing to wait out positions and players in order to stay true to their business philosophy. That philosophy, it would seem, is to focus on shorter-term deals that are tied to pay-for-performance models and incentives that reward players for delivering results while limiting team exposure to longer-term deals.

Such an approach would have been unthinkable a year ago, when teams were more than willing to shell out large, multi-year contracts with lots of up-front money in order to bring a contender to their team. Anyone remember our old friend Andruw Jones? Today, however, the business has changed. Free agents proliferate the market and those that have held out for 2008 money appear about as smart as homeowners who have refused to lower their home prices in response to a deteriorating market.

So the question remains – is Orlando Hudson the face of the “intelligent” player over the next few years? And are the Dodgers ahead of the game by exercising patience in their negotiations with players?

Let’s start with the question of Hudson. By all accounts, he is an intelligent, articulate man whose performance has been stellar. However, the three-time Gold Glove winner and former all-star earned $6.25 million last year with the D-Backs. In addition, Hudson hit a career high .305 last year with eight home runs and 41 RBIs. Why sign for $3.38 million plus another $4mil+ in incentives?
1. Geographic Sensitivity – Hudson was focused on NY and LA. Washington indicated interest, but wasn’t really a factor
2. The market changed, and Hudson knew it- the wrist was a warning sign for teams (go see how many times he had to work out for the teams courting him) and there were too many folks willing to play chicken and see what else they could land for a similar short-term deal. There weren’t many infielders of Hudson’s caliber available, but it was a buyers market.
3. Hudson’s view on money had changed- During the off-season, Hudson went to South Africa on his honeymoon and saw first-hand the impact that poverty was having on people with far less than he had.

In the end, Orlando Hudson got paid to play, and was incentivized to maximize the return to the team. In addition, he can be focused on courting potential suitors for when his contract expires and hope that the macroeconomic situation changes in the meantime. Seems like an intelligent choice when the alternative is waiting out Spring Training on a wing and a prayer.

So one to Question Two: Are the Dodgers ahead of the game in their patience and approach to player negotiations? I say yes. Consider this:
1. The Payroll is down $30mil (give or take) – the Dodgers can expect to expend $90 million or so right now for a team that is (pitching aside) eerily similar in talent to last year.
2. In most cases, the Dodgers have landed the key players they wanted to short-term deals that minimize risk and kept them from overpaying for talent and taking on risk over the long-term (a la Andruw Jones).
3. Will Ohman – The LHP turned down more money in a two-year deal earlier in the off-season from the Braves before signing with the Dodgers. Ohman told the L.A. Times “Initially, there was regret…for me to live at that address with that mind-set wouldn’t have done anything positive for me because there was nothing to foresee there would be a downturn of this magnitude.” Patience enabled the Dodgers to grab Ohman on a one-year minor league deal to see if he can play a role in the organization and was able to leverage his desire to be with a team prior to the start of the season to lock him down.

Now, Orlando Hudson (and arguably even Will Ohman) are not your typicall ballplayers who let their agents dictate their business affairs to a fault. Granted, both players overestimated the free agent market and paid for it, but both signed with a team that will be a contender in a weak NL West division and are not tied to low-paying multi-year contracts. The Dodgers get two solid players that are incentivized to perform this year both to maximize their current year earnings and the prospects for a fat, multi-year contract next offseason (should the macroeconomic environment improve).

To me, Orlando Hudson and the Dodgers represent the New Business of Baseball – a business I hope other players and teams embrace if they hope to survive and possibly even florish in today’s environment.