November 28, 2014

Is the Sun Setting on the Dodgers Season?

My fellow Dodger fans, I apologize for the lack of posts since the trading deadline.  Life sometimes gets in the way of things, and that’s been the case as of late.  But I’m back, and will be at the game tonight covering all the action of Ted Lilly’s first start in Dodger Blue.

Before then, I did want to address the trade deadline dealing.  Like our friends over at the Sons of Steve Garvey, I really noticed an interesting schism between the “mainstream media” that seemed to love the Dodgers recent acquisitions, and the bloggers that cover the team who did not (I also just noticed that Orel and I both share a love for the word “schism”).  Here’s my take:

Yes, Ned Colletti did continue to live up to his reputation as a dealmaker, making two three trades at or near the deadline, landing veteran outfielder Scott Podsednik, veteran lefty starter Ted Lilly, veteran infielder Ryan Theriot and veteran reliever Octavio Dotel.  See a pattern?

We know Joe Torre likes his veterans, but I’m sure he’s not excited about the quality of these moves, despite what he says publicly.  Afterall, he came from the Yankees…a team that makes big moves when they need to.  And the Dodgers (other than last night) are a team that’s had an absolutely horrific time scoring runs over the course of a six-game losing streak. 

I give Ned credit for making moves given the financial restrictions that he’s facing (the Dodgers assert there are no financial restrictions) and not sacrificing a ton in terms of the prospect department, but when I look at these moves, I just don’t think they’re collectively big enough to turn this club around.

Right now, I’m think of the Dodgers like a slow-moving freighter, slowly making their way down the NL West standings.  The effort to turn around said freighter is going to be a Herculean task requiring all hands on deck.  Do the recent additions (and the subtraction of fan favorite Blake DeWitt) help the Dodgers accomplish this?  Theoretically, yes it helps, but I fear it’s just too little, too late.  What the Dodgers desperately needed was a shot of addrenalin…ala Manny Ramirez at the trading deadline in 2008.  As I noted on my Twitter feed yesterday, the Dodgers need motivation.  Passion.  Desire.  The offense is simply listless and the position players are like zombies out there. Short of the arrival of Kenley Jansen, I just don’t see the necessary heroics for the team or its fans to rally around.

Yes, there’s still time, but winning the remaining three games against the Padres is an absolutely critical first step.  Otherwise, the sun might set on the Dodgers’ season a lot quicker than we all would like.

Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2010

Dodgers Host Third Annual Blogger Night; Embrace New Media

Alex, Ron Cey, Chris

The Dodgers get it. I’m not sure that there is another organization in professional sports that gets it the way that VP of Communications Josh Rawtich and the Dodgers get it. 

What the Dodgers “get” is how to engage with bloggers and members of non-mainstream media outlets to expand their outreach into conversations that are happening across the internet. 

Josh and his staff reaffirmed this position when they hosted the third annual blogger night at Dodger Stadium on Monday, July 5th in a luxury suite behind home plate. As with past events, there was a steady stream of Dodger dignitaries that stopped by to engage with the bloggers in attendance, including Dodgers GM Ned Colletti.  Colletti stayed for an hour after commenting that his visit last year ‘felt rushed’ and that he was impressed by the level of questions and discussion at past blogger engagements. 

Ned Colletti

Colletti wasn’t the only front office visitor that the 14 blogs who were in attendance had a chance to meet: Assistant GM Kim Ng, Dodgers legends “Sweet Lou” Johnson and Ron Cey and Dodgers President Dennis Mannion all dropped in for a considerable piece of time to listen and respond. 

Dodgers President Dennis Mannion

The list of blogs represented was also impressive, including many of our favorites, such as Dodger Thoughts, True Blue LA, Sons of Steve Garvey, LA Dodger Talk, and Vin Scully is My Homeboy, just to name a few. These guys were engaged and made the most of their time with Colletti and the others, while also taking time to stay on top of the game that was going on (something Chris and I weren’t able to do nearly as effectively). 

Chris and Sweet Lou

Following are a few thoughts and nuggets of information that were of interest to us: 

Pitching and the Trade Deadline 

Both Colletti and Ng were clear that pitching is their top priority as the trade deadline nears. They didn’t seem to be particularly focused on starting pitching or relievers, but it was obvious that both character and consistency were at the top of their list of traits they were looking for. Ng and Colletti split duties here, and either one might be involved depending on who has an established relationship with the key individuals (player, front office, agent, etc.). 

Digital Media is Growing for the Dodgers 

Chris and I had a great exchange with Josh Lukin who is the Director of Digital Marketing for the Dodgers. Josh started ramping up the digital marketing efforts for the club a few years ago while working on more traditional marketing efforts, but now dedicates most of his time on social media. It’s clear that Lukin is very interested in pushing the envelope in the digital space and leveraging Twitter and Facebook in particular to drive promotional efforts, deliver news and generally get folks more engaged with the Dodgers online. We talked about his recent promotion where he rewarded members of the four new Dodger email clubs with the opportunity to purchase standalone game tickets to the Yankees series before also sending a Twitter broadcast with a similar offer to the team’s followers. Lukin said the ROI on Twitter, Facebook, and SEA engagements have been very strong and that we could expect the Dodgers to do more in this space. 

Continued Blogger Support For Home Games 

The Dodgers are continuing to support a select set of Dodger Blogs with shared credential access to home games – something that MLB and other teams have been very slow to follow-up with on their own. Public Relations Supervisor Amy Summers told me that blogs now cover roughly 30-40% of the home games at Dodger Stadium and that weekend coverage is at almost 100%. She indicated that the Dodgers organization was very pleased with how the program has worked thus far and we discussed the “storytelling” aspect of blogs as compared to traditional journalism. 

Blogger Camaraderie 

Most of us who have been blogging about the Dodgers have met one another a few times over the past three years. What’s most impressive is the sense of mutual respect that runs through the group. Each blog really is unique and has its own slant or type of storytelling, which differentiates it from the others and removes any sense of competition. When we all get together at outings such as this, we share stories, trade insights and generally enjoy one another’s company. It’s a refreshing change from how blogs from other teams or sports interact with one another and something that just seems to have developed amicably. 

Overall, it was a great night in Chavez Ravine. I even saw team photographer Jon SooHoo in the parking lot getting set for a fireworks shot while perched at the top of a ladder (his image is shown below). I’m looking forward to next year’s event and the continued dialogue with both the team and my fellow bloggers in the second half of the season. 

Fireworks at Dodger Stadium - Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers

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Dodgers Show the Love to Team Bloggers

Tonight the Dodgers PR leadership including Josh Rawitch and Amy Summers hosted the Third Annual Blogger Night at Chavez Ravine.  We’ll have much more on the activities of the evening on Tuesday, but highlights included nearly an hour-long, candid Q&A with general manager Ned Colletti, as well as one-on-one discussions with team president Dennis Mannion, assistant general manager Kim Ng, as well as photo ops with Dodger legends Ron Cey and Sweet Lou Johnson.

Per Inside the Dodgers, nearly 15 different sites were in attendance….many of which are favorites of ours, and many new ones as well.

Thanks again to the Dodgers organization for their ongoing commitment to social media and spreading the love to Dodger fans across the globe.  We know many of you can’t attend Dodger games for a variety of reasons (including not living in LA), and we’re glad we can help share the insights we pick up at events such as these.

UPDATE: Here is the official recap and pictures from the festivities.

Note: Photo of Ned Colletti from 2008 Blogger Night

Is Ben Sheets the Next Orlando Hudson for the Dodgers?

So I’ve written about this before (way back on April 2, 2009), but the closer we get to Spring Training, the more I think Ben Sheets is secretly Ned Colletti’s #1 choice for the #4 starter slot in the rotation.

Think about it, there really aren’t that many quality starters left on the free agent market and those that are will be looking for long-term deals (Joel Pinero, Jon Garland, etc.).  Then there are the second-tier pitchers (Vicente Padilla, etc.).  That leaves the Big Enigma: Ben Sheets.

Out of baseball since 2008, we really don’t know a lot about how good Sheets is these days and how he’s recovered from his surgery for a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow.  What we do know is that he’s supposedly looking for $10-12 million per year which just isn’t going to happen.  His last year in the majors was 2008 when he started 31 games, going 13-9 with five complete games and 198.1 innings pitched, along with 1 3.09 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.  Not bad, right?  When not hurt, he’s an innings-eater.  Before the need for elbow surgery was discovered, Sheets was on track to sign a two-year deal with the Rangers before the 2009 season.

What we do know is that Ned loves a good late-season deal.  Let’s look back on Orlando Hudson.  At the time, there was a lot of concern about his surgically-repaired wrist and teams were hesitant to give him a multi-year contract.  Ned worked him out very late in the off-season and eventually signed him on to an incentive-based contract for one year, paying him a base salary of $3.38 million plus another $4+ million in incentives.  Not bad, right?  At the time, this contract looked like a steal. 

In the end, Hudson went on to an All-Star year, playing in 149 games (until being benched by Joe Torre in favor of Rafael Belliard), batting .282 with 62 BI, 9 HR, 8 SB and 35 doubles (a career high).  In addition to being named a 2009 All-Star, he also won a Gold Glove for his defensive prowess.  All of this netted him a whopping $7.99 million.  I don’t have a problem with the Dodgers paying for performance, and I appreciate Ned’s business philosophy of focusing on shorter-term details that are tied to pay-for-performance models and incentives that reward the players for delivering while limiting the Club’s financial exposure when a high-degree of risk is involved.

In the end, it will come down to how well Sheets pitches on Tuesday and how much interest there is from other clubs, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Ned try to land Sheets with a Hudson-type of contract structure if he pitches halfway decently, especially given the rumored financial difficulty the Dodgers are currently facing.

Photo Credit: AP/Morry Gash

An Attempt to Make Sense of the Dodgers’ Off-Season Decisions

This morning I picked up my Magic 8 Ball, gave it a good shake and asked “Will the Dodgers sign an impact starting pitcher before Spring Training?”  The answer?  “Outlook not so good.”  And while I hate to say it, I agree with my Magic 8 Ball.

Now I’m not a true numbers guy, but I’m going to attempt my own financial analysis of the Dodgers’ current situation (feel free to disagree).

First, let’s look at attendance:

Year     Dodgers Attendance       Overall MLB Ranking

2009    3,761,669                               #1

2008    3,730,553                               #3 (Yankees were #1, Mets were #2)

2007    3,857,036                               #2 (Yankees were #1)

2006    3,758,545                                #2 (Yankees were #1)

For the decade as a whole, the Dodgers ranked second in overall attendance with 30,735,479.  Only the Yankees pulled in more fans with 34,061,693.  Not bad!  So it’s safe to say the Dodgers are still consistently pulling the fans through the turnstiles and generating income for the team, even if season ticket prices have been frozen recently.

Now let’s look at payroll.  The Dodgers average payroll for 2006-2008 was $119.57 million, which ranked them fourth in the majors behind the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets.  Their 2008 Opening Day payroll was $118,536,038 (their final payroll in 2008 was $125,864,496).  Their starting payroll in 2009 was $100,458,101.  The average payroll for all MLB clubs decreased by 1.7 percent from 2008 to 2009.  Using the above  numbers, the Dodgers payroll decreased 15.29 percent from Opening Day 2008 to Opening Day 2009.  That’s a big, big difference from 1.7 percent, especially given that the Club was running very strong attendance numbers.

Their 2010 payroll right now stands at roughly $92,791,000 according to Jon Weisman (as of December 17, 2009).  That’s an approximate decrease of 7.7 percent from the Opening Day 2009 payroll.  Things are obviously not moving in the right direction financially, and Phil Gurnee at True Blue LA does a great job of summarizing the financial dilemmas currently facing Dodger ownership.

Given all of this, are the Dodgers moves this off-season really a surprise?  First, they didn’t offer arbitration to Randy Wolf or Orlando Hudson.  Either way you look at this, those draft picks and/or pro salaries would cost money.  Then they trade Juan Pierre for two young pitchers, saving more money in the process.  Next, Ned Colletti signed utility infielder Jamey Carroll for two years and $4 million.  They offered a handful of minor league contracts to older guys hoping to catch on during Spring Training.  Now we have the rumored George Sherrill for Aaron Hurang trade.  Now this makes me really, really nervous from a baseball perspective, but financially, it seems to fit the pattern, right?

However, hope still exisits.  By this point last year, Ned had signed Casey Blake (December 9th) and Rafael Furcal (December 18), but didn’t sign other prominent free agents until well after the first of the year, including Randy Wolf (February 6), Orlando Hudson (February 21) and Manny Ramirez (March 4).

I’m going to ask my original question to the Magic 8 Ball again in mid-January.  Ned does like to make value deals late in the off-season, so I’m hoping for a new answer…something  like “Signs point to yes.”