Ball is in Dodgers’ court
Will they make splash or stay conservative?
The Dodgers have had baseball’s best record for much of the season and own a 7 1/2-game lead in the National League West with Manny Ramírez back and young pitchers Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw blossoming. But will it be enough to get them to the World Series?
That’s why the next two weeks leading to the trading deadline will be critical.
“That’s what we’ve been discussing this week,’’ said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who was vacationing on Cape Cod earlier this week. “We feel we have had a very good season and our young pitching has really come through, but we’re certainly discussing internally what we might need.’’
Some would suggest that might be Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays ace intrigues everyone in the Dodger organization, but intrigue and actually doing something about it are different things. McCourt likes what his farm system and scouting departments are building in terms of prospects and young major leaguers, including Matt Kemp and James Loney, and thus far has resisted trading them.
“I think if we had made some deals people wanted us to make along the way we wouldn’t have the core of our team right now,’’ McCourt said.
One can tell by McCourt’s comments that there’s a reluctance to make a deal as big as acquiring Halladay. Do the Dodgers have the three, or likely four, players to get a deal like that done? Absolutely.
Like most organizations, the Dodgers are weighing the pros and cons. Winning now is important because six seasons into McCourt’s tenure, he’d like to win a championship. There was hope last season when Ramírez carried the Dodgers to the playoffs, though they couldn’t solve the Phillies’ pitching and lost the NLCS.
McCourt perks up when a possible Dodgers-Red Sox World Series is mentioned, but he won’t put the cart before the horse, knowing how much can happen between now and October. Dream? Sure, he does.
Yet over the next two weeks the Dodgers need to set up their team for the rest of the way. The focus will likely be on two issues other than Halladay. One is the bullpen, which in the past has been a shortcoming of manager Joe Torre, who has been known to wear out relievers. Knowing this, the Dodgers probably need to focus some of their chips on acquiring someone like George Sherrill, a legitimate workhorse.
And Juan Pierre, the Dodgers’ first-half savior while Ramírez was serving his 50-game drug suspension, will likely be shopped before the deadline. One Dodgers source said, “We really don’t want to move him because he did so much for us, and we feel he could really help us as a defensive player and as a hitter, but whether we can keep him happy enough to not be a distraction is what we’re concerned about.’’
While you never want to subtract depth, you need to have players who will accept roles. There’s a feeling that Pierre’s skills will not be utilized properly if he’s coming off the bench. Pierre also is owed $10 million next year and $8.5 million in 2011 as part of a five-year, $44 million deal. That’s a lot of money for a fourth outfielder.
While the Dodgers amassed an early lead in the West against Arizona, Colorado, and San Francisco, teams that were struggling at the start of the season, the Giants and Rockies are playing well now and are wild-card contenders. No longer are the Dodgers competing against also-rans, with the exception of the Padres and Diamondbacks.
They must also monitor where they are compared to the Phillies, who recently added Pedro Martínez, and the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs, who are in contention in the NL Central. Can the Dodgers emerge as the favorites in a playoff series with a rotation of Billingsley, Kershaw, Randy Wolf, and Hiroki Kuroda, or do they need to acquire Halladay?
At short, they’ve come up shortIf there has been one position in the Red Sox organization that has been devoid of stability since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004, it’s been shortstop. Which may explain why the Sox have concentrated on building up their stable.
Casey Kelly was their first-round draft pick last season, and is beginning the shortstop phase of his season, while trying to decide whether to play short or pitch after amassing a 7-5 record with a 2.11 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 16 walks in Single A. While many in the organization believe Kelly eventually will pitch full time, he also loves the action at shortstop. At the Futures Game last week he said he will make a decision likely by this time next year.
“Anything is possible,’’ he said. “It’s definitely a win-win. If I don’t play shortstop, I become a pitcher, and there’s no loser in this.’’
A reason the Sox need to keep Kelly happy is he turned down a football scholarship to the University of Tennessee, and acknowledged he missed football when he watched the Vols on TV.
Recently, the Sox invested almost $10.2 million in a pair of international shortstops - Jose Iglesias, a 19-year-old from Cuba, who was signed to an $8.2 million deal, and 16-year-old Jose Vinicio from the Dominican Republic, who received a $1.8 million bonus.
An international scout for an American League team said of Iglesias, “He’s about 5-10, 170 pounds, an all-star defender with tremendous range, great hands, and a great arm. Makeup-wise he really impresses you. Some scouts feel he’ll hit in the majors, others have concerns.’’ On Vinicio, the scout said, “Good defensive tools. He’s so young he should continue to develop with the bat, but again, hard to project his hitting.’’
Blast from the past reflects on another Hall of Fame careerA few questions for Hank Aaron about Jim Rice:
I remember you saying years ago that you thought Jim Rice would someday break your home run record. Do you remember that?
HA: “I do, vaguely. I probably said that at the time because when I first saw him I just thought, here’s a young hitter who’s already putting up great numbers and he’s getting better and better. I thought he had a chance. I really admired him because he went about his business and was very quiet and really loved playing the game. I thought he was going to do great things, and he did.’’
Some of Rice’s detractors believe he didn’t have the good on-base percentage and therefore wasn’t Hall of Fame-caliber.
HA: “He liked to swing the bat. I liked to swing the bat. I didn’t keep the bat on my shoulder unless they were walking me intentionally. I think he was paid to swing the bat and he probably had that confidence that when he swung the bat something good was going to happen. That’s the type of confidence I had. Maybe there’s a different way of approaching it now, I don’t know. I see guys who take a walk and they’re smiling and I see guys who take a called third strike that are smiling. There are a lot of walks and a lot of strikeouts nowadays. I took great pride in never striking out 100 times in a season. We made it a conscious effort not to do that. Striking out 100 times was embarrassing. Now so many hitters do it that it’s become acceptable.’’
Are you surprised Jim didn’t hit more home runs?
HA: “Yes, I am. He was a big, strong man and I thought he was going to really take advantage of that short porch in left field, which I know he did. But he was a fine hitter who could hit the ball to all fields. He drove in runs and helped his team win games. Pitchers didn’t like seeing him come up to the plate, I know that. He could hurt you up there.’’
Do you think it helped Jim’s Hall of Fame candidacy that he was considered a clean player, didn’t use steroids?
HA: “Probably so. He did it all on his own. I remember I had seen him in some exhibition games before 1975 and just thinking, ‘Boy, this kid can really hit,’ and he just carried himself so well. He was maturing and he was playing far away from his home in Boston. All of those things had to be tough for him.’’
Have you ever talked to him?
HA: “I’ve tried to but we’ve always missed each other, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing him in Cooperstown. I’ve heard all the golf stories. I understand he can really hit it.’’
2. Josh Reddick, CF, Portland Sea Dogs - Reddick is a leadoff man and very good outfielder who has stroked 12 homers. Could he be a major chip in a deal?
3. John Farrell, pitching coach, Red Sox - His name already is popping up as a possibility for the Indians’ managing job should Eric Wedge be fired in the offseason. Farrell has turned down opportunities to interview for managing jobs in Pittsburgh and Seattle, but the Indians are the organization he cut his teeth with as a player and administrator. The Indians also regard highly Triple A manager Torey Lovullo.
4. Tim Bogar, first base coach, Red Sox - Manager Cecil Cooper needs to have a very good rest of the season or he could find himself on the outs in Houston, where he’s had to deal with much criticism from players, media, and some of his staff. While the Astros could go with third base coach Dave Clark, Bogar is a name that’s in the mix should something happen.
5. Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates - While Sanchez expects to be traded (even though the Pirates have approached he and shortstop Jack Wilson about extensions), he doesn’t regret his years in Pittsburgh. “I would have loved to be a part of the championships in Boston [he was dealt to the Pirates for Jeff Suppan in 2003], but there were no guarantees I would have gotten a chance,’’ said Sanchez, who is being eyed by the Twins. “Pittsburgh gave me the opportunity to become a good player and I’ll always be grateful. The losing has been tough, I can’t lie, but I think what always kept us going is that we could be part of the big turnaround, which would be very exciting as well.’’
6. Daisuke Matsuzaka, P, Red Sox - Matsuzaka’s agent, Scott Boras, thinks the Sox have handled his client perfectly. “I think they’ve done a great job all around,’’ Boras said. Asked whether he was on board with placing Matsuzaka on the disabled list, Boras said, “I cannot divulge any medical information concerning Daisuke, but there were no issues on that front.’’ Sources close to Matsuzaka have indicated the communication between Boras and Matsuzaka isn’t what it once was. The Red Sox have not been thrilled with Matsuzaka’s conditioning, and there’s a sense Boras might agree.
7. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals - We all know that when Pujols’s seven-year, $100 million deal is up, he should be making Alex Rodriguez money - $25 million-$27 million a year - but the Cardinals have him at $16 million for 2010, with an option for the same amount in 2011. Now, when does it reach the point where Pujols wants an extension? Because of the relative bargain they have in Pujols, the Cardinals should be in position to bid for Roy Halladay. But most baseball people feel they won’t do it.
8. Albert Belle, retired OF - People thought Jim Rice was intimidating during his playing days? Rice was Burl Ives compared with Belle. Regardless, Hall of Fame voters dismissed Belle’s candidacy way too quickly. He hit 381 home runs in 12 seasons, two of which consisted of a total of 71 games. According to baseball-reference.com, Belle’s 162-game averages were 40 homers, 130 RBIs, and a .295 batting average. Anyway, old friend Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was walking to Busch Stadium the other day before the All-Star Game when Belle called him, wanting to talk about the Indians and former teammate Manny Ramírez. “If they’re not going to take anybody’s stats away, then what difference does a positive [drug] test make,’’ Belle told Hoynes. “And what about those 101 players who tested positive and haven’t been named yet? I say release all their names so we can get done beating the dead horse.’’
9. George Sherrill, P, Orioles - Very much in demand. “He’s got [guts],’’ said one American League scout. Entering the weekend, he had a 1.35 ERA with 25 strikeouts over his last 26 2/3 innings. The Orioles are looking for infield prospects.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.