Andre Ethier, Comeback Player of the Year

I’m pretty sure I’ve been saying – in bits & pieces, perhaps – that Andre Ethier is going to have a big 2012 around here for nearly six months now. I don’t know if I ever put it all together into one coherent thought, so for my debut at FanGraphs today, that’s exactly what I’ve done. A snippet:

Ethier’s reputation has been further damaged by what can kindly be described as a salty attitude, including complaining about his contract status & suggesting that he might be non-tendered just before Opening Day 2010 and getting into a very public spat with the team about whether he was being forced to play through a knee injury late last season. Beyond that, his total inability to hit left-handed pitching and his less-than-impressive defensive performance (despite a laughable Gold Glove in 2011) led FanGraphs’ own Mike Axisa, writing at River Ave Blues this winter, to label him as essentially a platoon designated hitter, a description I couldn’t really find much to argue with.

All of which is to say that the outlook on Ethier heading into 2012 isn’t exactly what it was following 2009, and that’s reflected in fantasy drafts so far this season. His ADP at MockDraftCentral is 135th overall and just 35th among outfielders, behind Nick Markakis and just barely ahead of Peter Bourjos. At both MDC and in CBS’ auction values list, he’s seen as being only slightly more valuable than Melky Cabrera, who A) had a career year (.349 wOBA) last year which was only slightly better than Ethier’s sub-par 2011 and B) seems about as likely to repeat that performance as McCourt is to go into business with Bud Selig on a nice little bed-and-breakfast.

Here’s the thing, though: absolutely everything is falling into place perfectly for Ethier to have a huge comeback season, and that potential along with his lessened public profile makes him a very valuable commodity.

As you can probably guess, I go on to point out that his lessened productivity over the last two seasons can largely be attributed to the broken finger he returned from too quickly in 2010 and the bad knee he tried to play on for most of 2011. Fully healthy and motivated in his walk year, he’s showing early in camp that if the Dodgers go anywhere this year, he’s going to have a lot to do with it. (And as I’m about to hit publish, he drives in two more with yet another double. Go, Andre, go!)

Notes on the other 24 men who will try to join Ethier as we head into the final weekend of spring training…

*** Ted Lilly hasn’t pitched in over a week due to a sore neck, though he reportedly made it through a bullpen session today withonly some stiffness and no pain. That’s a good sign, though the layoff may yet land him on the disabled list to start the season. Due to April off-days, he would likely not be replaced by another starter – sorry, Nathan Eovaldibut instead by an 8th reliever. Much as I like Josh Lindblom, who would almost certainly be that reliever, I’m not so sure that’s the right way to play it. We’ll wait and see what happens with Lilly before we get too deep into that, though.

*** Speaking of the elderly, Adam Kennedy is recovering from a groin strain and may also start the season on the disabled list… and I’m trying and failing to figure out why that’s a bad thing in any way whatsoever. Keep in mind that the disabled list does not start on Opening Day, but is retroactive to a player’s last appearance, so if Kennedy doesn’t play in another big-league spring game and starts the season on the DL, he’d be eligible return just a few days into the season.

*** Josh Bard and Cory Sullivan were cut yesterday, and that’s only notable for the fact that Luis Cruz was not. (Well, that, and the fact that apparently one of my readers is Cory Sullivan’s biggest fans.) With Jerry Sands gone, we’ve all been expecting the battle for the last spot to come down to Justin Sellers versus Josh Fields, and while I still think that’s what it’ll be (bet on Fields), Cruz keeps on sticking around and is even picking up supporters. I’m not exactly sure why; he’s been awful in the minors (AAA OBP last three years of .274, .309, .301), and it’s not even like he’s a spring sensation, because he’s hitting just .259 with no walks and two extra base hits in spring (entering today’s game, because oddly enough he just did the same thing Ethier did, driving in a run on a double). So he can play shortstop; big deal, so can Sellers. Just say no, okay?

Stan Kasten Should Not Fire Ned Colletti

…at least not now, anyway.

I’ve been seeing a surprising amount of unhappiness from Dodger fans over a series of notes from Bill Shaikin, Dylan Hernandez, and Tim Brown, who all claim that Stan Kasten not only plans to make no immediate moves in the front office, but that he has a good relationship with Ned Colletti, even meeting for dinner a few weeks ago. Since so many of us have been saying for so long that the potential of new ownership pushing Colletti out might be even more beneficial from a baseball perspective than Frank McCourt leaving, this has been taken in some quarters as a sign that we may yet be stuck with Colletti for some time to come. Fire up the red alarms, right?

To which I say: well, of course this is what’s happening. Say what you want about Ned Colletti – and believe me, I have – but I have yet to read a single report of anyone finding him anything less than friendly and personable. There’s a big difference between “being a terrible general manager” and “being an awful person”, and by all indications, Colletti’s the kind of guy who gets along with everyone and has few enemies in the business. Beyond that, Colletti & Kasten have mutual friends and Colletti was well aware that he was speaking to a man who very well might be his boss soon, and the real story here would have been if we were hearing that the two men weren’t getting along.

It works that way from Kasten’s end, too. Hey, he may very well plan to come in and fire Colletti. You know that I hope he does, because all of the stories you read about how Colletti’s hands were tied because of McCourt’s lowered payrolls are complete garbage. But when he says things like “I go in assuming everyone is doing their job properly” and that he wants to support the current team, keep in mind that it’s really the only thing he can say. Even if it was a good idea to fire the general manager the week before the season starts – spoiler alert: it’s not – don’t forget that Kasten and company don’t officially take power until May 1. Though it may be entertaining to imagine Kasten coming out and saying “Colletti? Ha, that guy is so unemployed, remember when he gave $117m to Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, & Andruw Jones?” it of course makes absolutely no sense for him to start a public turmoil by saying that now when he couldn’t even follow through on it for another month.

I still think Colletti will be long gone by this time next year, and perhaps even by the July trading deadline if the team is struggling this season. But it’s not going to happen right now, nor should it.

Look Out, World: Here Come the Dodgers

It’s been almost exactly 24 hours since news broke of the Guggenheim group being selected by Frank McCourt, and as you can imagine, the day has been filled with plenty of discussion about debt, parking lots, and revenue sources – and rightfully so.

Those are all eminently worthwhile discussion topics, and believe me, we’ll have plenty of time to get deeply into all of that in the coming weeks. But here’s what else we’ve learned over the last day; after years of watching this team bottomfeed for the Chris Capuanos and Juan Riveras of the world rather than get in on the big fish, observers of other teams are absolutely terrified of what the Dodgers are going to be able to do next winter.

Adam Moore, Lone Star Ball:

The Dodgers’ outfield currently consists of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and a black hole. Ethier is a free agent after the season. Hamilton is one of the most marketable and popular players in the game right now. And the Dodgers will have money to spend.

You think Magic might be at Hamilton’s house at 12:01 a.m. on the first day of free agency this year? You think new ownership might be willing to offer the type of “Jayson Werth contract” — 7 years, $126 million — that Hamilton is supposed saying is a starting point on a new deal, and that the Rangers aren’t going to come close to matching?

Most likely, this is Josh Hamilton‘s last season in Texas. I expect next year at this time, he’ll be wearing Dodger blue.

For the record, I absolutely do not want to give Josh Hamilton a 7/$126m deal or anything like it.

Jim Kozimor, CSN Bay Area:

If I’m a Giants fan, I’m nervous. Here’s why:
- If someone spends that kind of money for a baseball team it’s not just a trinket they can hold. They want to play with it.
- Long term, the Giants are now pitted against a Yankees-like financial powerhouse.
- Of more immediate concern: L.A. has to be considered a player in the Matt Cain Sweepstakes.

Henry Schulman, San Francisco Gate:

I can’t begin to guess whether this will make it harder for the Giants to sign Cain, either now or next fall. But there is no question he has the Giants over a barrel now. That does not mean the Giants should hand Cain a blank contract and let him fill in the figure. But if Cain wants something approaching market value to sign now, the Giants are probably going to have spend above their comfort level. Will they do it? I still think they will.

Remember, the man at the helm now, Larry Baer, is a marketing man. Surely he understands the wrath that the ticket-buyers will feel if the Giants do not make a competitive offer and let him walk, especially if he walks into Chavez Ravine.

Kevin Cooney, Phils-ville:

You don’t spend that type of money and then suddenly decide to go cheap. And in a town where the Dodgers brand name was king at one point, Johnson now brings instant credibility to both fans and potential free agents. And while Stan Kasten will be the baseball guy running the show and there will be others with bigger financial stakes, Johnson – who has made a fortune after his career in various business interest – is the drawing card.

And how would this impact the Phillies? Well, let’s start with a certain left-handed starting pitcher.

Lost in the injury din of the lost spring in Clearwater has been the fact that things on the Cole Hamels front have been extremely quiet. John Boggs came into town for a few days, but progress has not been reported.

Hey, who knows how many of these guys ever make it to the market, or if we even want them. But for once, it seems that the Dodgers might actually be in the market for top players rather than simply those who fall into their limited payroll structure. Other teams are already taking notice. Is it wrong to be looking forward to the 2012-13 offseason more than the 2012 season itself?

$2.15 Billion Offer for Dodgers Reportedly All Cash; McCourt Asks For Small, Unmarked, Non-sequential Bills

Left: Todd Boehly, president of Guggenheim Partners. Center: another rich white guy! Right: Mark Walter, CEO.

I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised by the infusion of negativity into the final thread of the ownership news last night, with people making outlandish claims like “the new owners are coming in with a BILLION DOLLARS in debt” and that Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Andre Ethier were as good as gone, because the underfunded ownership group would make the Dodgers “Houston Astro level bad”, with a healthy share of unhappiness that Frank McCourt would still be a player in the parking lots.

That’s all understandable to a point, I suppose, because information was flying around fast and furious last night. A healthy dose of skepticism isn’t entirely unhealthy, and I certainly shared some of it.

First, the Wall Street Journal on debt

The person said the other offers, which were perceived as opening bids, were in the range of $1.5 billion, some 25% less than the Johnson-Walter bid. As a result, the other bidders were never given a chance to match, and the deal was wrapped up by Tuesday evening.

The bid was described as a “100% cash offer.” Mr. Walter is making a significant personal contribution to the purchase price, with Guggenheim Partners, of which he is chief executive, playing a substantial role in financial contribution.

One. Hundred. Percent. Cash. I’m quite honestly floored by that, simply considering the sheer magnitude of the $2.15b purchase price. (Which is what we’re going to be referring to it as from now on, because let’s not pretend the additional $150m for the parking lot partnership doesn’t count.) If true, then there’s no concern about debt service at all, which was in the end what brought McCourt down. While the obvious next question may be, “how can they possibly still have money left to invest in the team if they just spent so much on the purchase,” remember how different of a situation this is from when McCourt bought in. His purchase was almost entirely on debt, with his personal outlay being either extremely small or by some reports, nothing at all. The Guggenheim group is not only well-funded, but has multiple partners, including Hollywood producer Peter Guger and other Guggenheim members (including Todd Boehly, seen in the picture.) Most importantly, unlike McCourt, no one is buying into this as their primary source of income, as he was, and you don’t make this kind of investment to finish in fifth place (and be a poor primary anchor for the inevitable television network).

But there’s more! While we’re regrettably not 100% rid of McCourt, nor is Dodger Stadium surrounded by parking lots that only he controls. According to several tweets from Bill Shaikin, the joint venture which will control the lots makes McCourt a minority partner at best. The “deal allows Magic group to control parking lots for games, Magic and McCourt to jointly pursue any development of lots,” Shaikin wrote, and he later added that the Magic group would have the ability to veto any development plans. So while we’ll need to learn a bit more about that, it does initially seem that McCourt could be potentially frozen out if the Magic group decides not to build on the land, since all game-day traffic is controlled by incoming ownership.

There’s a whole lot to do – Jon Weisman runs down the list at ESPN/LA – and still some questions that need to be answered, but even just in the 12 hours or so in the news has broken, things are looking better by the minute. It’s a good day, friends, with hopefully a lot more to come.

Nineteen Scattered Thoughts on New Dodger Ownership

Okay, let’s try to make sense of all this, because there is a LOT happening here; apologies in advance for the list format.

  1. YAY! Yay. Yay. Yay. We’ve been waiting for this day since… well, I wanted to say since we learned about the divorce in October 2009, but that’s not accurate. We all had our issues with McCourt for years prior to that. Finally seeing him on his way out, well… it’s like Christmas multiplied by your birthday times twelve Super Bowls, plus kittens.
  2. I didn’t think this needed explaining, but apparently it does. Everything you’re reading and hearing saying that “Magic Johnson bought the Dodgers” isn’t exactly accurate. Trust me, Magic does not have two billion dollars or anything close to it. Mark Walter, CEO of Guggenheim Partners, is the new controlling owner, and the group includes film producer Peter Guber, baseball Stan Kasten, and Bobby Patton & Todd Boehly of Guggenheim. Magic’s the public face, Kasten’s the baseball guy, and Walter is the controlling interest. It may not seem like an important distinction, but it is, though it’s fair to note that Walter is not expected to be a hands-on owner in the Steinbrenner or Cuban tradition.
  3. That said, Magic will be the first minority black owner in baseball history, and while that’s irrelevant to some, it’s a nice feather in the cap of Jackie Robinson’s club.
  4. No Tony LaRussa! HUGE win, that.
  5. I know a lot of people have issues with Stan Kasten, but I generally like his involvement. He’s got a ton of baseball experience with the Nationals and Braves, and few know the ins and outs of the MLB executive world as well as he does.
  6. Frank McCourt is going to walk away with about a BILLION dollars in profit, AND he doesn’t have to give up full control of the parking lots. God bless America.
  7. That last part, about the parking lots, is important, because it’s an unfortunate fact that we’re not completely free of the scumbag just yet. In addition to the $2b for the team, the group is spending an additional $150m to form “a joint venture” which will control the parking lots. That’s sort of ill-defined, I think, so we’ll need to learn a lot more about it, and we should probably hold off on judgement until then. Still, I can’t pretend there’s not significant disappointment that McCourt is still going to be involved in some way. (Update: and literally as I pressed publish, Bill Shaikin tweets that the lots will be controlled by the Magic group. Details to come, I assume. Hooray!)
  8. Man, T.J. Simers is going to have to trademark “The Boston Parking Lot Attendant” now, isn’t he?
  9. Ex-wife Jamie, who once claimed she owned 50% of the team, walks a way with a comparatively puny $131m. That kind of cash is hardly poverty level, of course. Still, nice negotiating job there, Jamie.
  10. You probably didn’t need me to tell you this, but two billion dollars is a lot a money. An absurdly ridiculous amount of money. A ludicrous amount of money, nearly tripling the previous high sale price for an MLB team. Not to rain on the parade here, but we’re going to need to learn where that cash is coming from. There’s no way this is two billion dollars in straight cash, homey, and I’m at least a little concerned about what kind of debt is included. I should clarify that no one – no one – was going to buy this club without at least some debt, similar to the needing a mortgage on your house analogy I’ve made before. But how much debt? It’s a concern, and the main hope here is that MLB learned enough from their past mistakes that what they’ve approved is within reason.
  11. Adding on to that last thought, a question I’m hearing a lot is, “what kind of money can they have left for payroll after spending all that?” The simple answer is, well, we don’t know. I’ll say this, though: no one’s spending two billion dollars on a baseball team to run it on a shoestring budget that struggles to compete. That’s especially so if you believe that one of the main driving factors in the purchase price is the idea of setting up a lucrative television network; it certainly doesn’t help ratings to have your cornerstone product going 72-90.
  12. I’ll admit that after writing those previous two thoughts, a small part of me preferred the Cohen/Soon-Shiong group. Not enough of me that I’m wishing this turned out any other way, of course, because this is a great day. Just trying to be pragmatic until we know more about the funding.
  13. And so we’re clear, this still has to be approved by the bankruptcy court, which will convene on April 13. It’d be a shock if they denied it, since the group has been vetted so thoroughly, but it’s not yet a done deal. So for the next few weeks at least, McCourt still owns this club.
  14. I don’t think we know yet if the Magic group put up the highest bid. While it’s hard to think that anyone was topping $2b for the team, the Cohen/Patrick Soon-Shiong group certainly could have gone higher if they chose. So it’s worth asking; did McCourt factor how happy this group would make the fans at all? Not that he’s ever cared about the fans, but this may soothe some of the terrible feelings about him on the way out. Not here, though.
  15. Speaking of Soon-Shiong, is it too late for him to get back with his friend Magic?
  16. Money issues aside, Magic alone makes this a huge public relations coup. You could argue that the Cohen group made more sense financially, but there’d also be a backlash against another New Englander with a past and who had never been to Dodger Stadium. Magic’s a local hero, and that’s huge for this organization.
  17. Can’t wait for people to start asking the new guys about Ned Colletti. I’ll you this, they’re not firing him on their first day in charge, which could be as late as May 1. My gut feeling is that he lasts the season, unless the on-field product is atrocious, which it won’t be; while Colletti has built a potentially boring, low-upside team of veterans, it’s also a team that should be respectable at worst.
  18. And for what it’s worth, I hope Don Mattingly stays.
  19. YAYYY!