Monday Notes: Ownership & Prospects

Plenty to keep track of on this last Monday of January…

* While we’re still waiting to hear more details on the (at least) eight bidders who proceeded to the second round, Bill Shaikin notes that one of the eight has a substantial new partner. Tom Barrack, a Santa Monica investment banker, has joined up with the Leo Hindery / Marc Utay group. This is a group we really haven’t looked into all that closely, but considering that Hindery helped build the YES Network cash cow for the Yankees and Barrack brings significant financial muscle, it’s time to start taking them more seriously.

* Shaikin also sheds some light on Peter O’Malley’s bid, identifying a South Korean company, “E-land”, as his main financial backer. E-land is a worldwide conglomerate which largely deals in fashion, and has reported holdings of approximately $7 billion. O’Malley would reportedly also bring in local investors, though nothing has been made official yet. I don’t really have a problem with foreign money being involved – let’s try to keep the xenophobia to a minimum, you know? – especially with the Dodgers having had such a positive history with Asian baseball, but I’m still not really high on O’Malley’s group for the same reasons as I was earlier this month. While the O’Malley name clearly carries a lot of weight in the world of the Dodgers, it’s not like he left the organization in such great shape the first time, and I’d prefer someone younger than 74 to take the reins in transforming the Dodgers from an embarrassment into a club that is looking towards the future.

* Somewhat buried in Shaikin’s story about O’Malley is that Beverly Hills real estate tycoon Alan Casden did in fact make it to the second round of the bidding. That, plus the Barrack and O’Malley details, means that the most up-to-date list of eight that we know of is this:

1) Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten/Mark Walter
2) Joe Torre/Rick Caruso
3) Steven Cohen
4) Stanley Gold/Roy Disney family
5) Peter O’Malley / E-land
6) Stan Kroenke
7) Leo Hindery/Marc Utay / Tom Barrack
8) Alan Casden

I would caution again, however, that we do not know that these are the only eight. Just as Casden’s name wasn’t included originally, other bidders could still be in play, and we still don’t know what the hell to make of Josh Macciello.

* Jon Heyman reports that at least one bid is in the range of $1.5 billion, and if that’s true, it’s likely we are looking at a final sale price that’s between $1.5-$2 billion. I worried a few weeks ago that such a ludicrous sale price could have repercussions down the road, and that has the even more unfortunate effect of me having to agree with T.J. Simers, who wrote basically the same thing this weekend:

Some folks probably thought the Dodgers could do no worse than Fox’s ownership.

Change is difficult. This one will certainly involve higher ticket prices as the Parking Lot Attendant has lowered them for this season and the new guy will be paying more than $1 billion to please McCourt.

The payroll and stadium are going to need an upgrade. And just because the new guy isn’t McCourt doesn’t mean he’s not going to eventually hit Dodgers fans with the bill.

If he’s a loser, and there’s no guarantee just because he’s replacing McCourt that he’s going to be a winner, it’s going to take more than Magic Johnson waving to the crowd every night to keep folks happy.

Simers, for once in his miserable life, isn’t wrong. While we’re all hopeful, there’s no guarantee that the new owner is really the savior we hope they’ll be. However, I’m not going to let that bother me too much. The new owner might be terrible, but they might not be. There’s hope there. There was absolutely zero hope that McCourt was ever going to build a franchise we could be proud of, so even if the future is uncertain, I’ll take that over the certainty that the status quo was not going to work.

* At Baseball Prospectus, Maury Brown looks into the possibility that Kroenke could be involved in large part so he can move his St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles. I’m sure that would actually make a lot of Dodger fans who grew up cheering for the Rams pretty happy, though of course Steve Dilbeck has already looked into this and inserted a terrifying theory that Kroenke could try to partner with McCourt to make this happen. Uh, no thanks.

* Getting back to baseball, Baseball Prospectus‘ Kevin Goldstein has his Top 10 Dodger prospect list out today. Obviously, all of these kinds of lists are educated guesses at best, but there’s few prospect reporters I respect more than Goldstein. Anything stand out to you on this list?

1. Zach Lee, RHP
2. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP
3. Allen Webster, RHP
4. Chris Reed, LHP
5. Garrett Gould, RHP
6. Chris Withrow, RHP
7. Alfredo Silverio, OF
8. Joc Pederson, OF
9. Alex Castellanos, OF/2B
10. Angel Sanchez, RHP
11. Shawn Tolleson, RHP

The first six players listed, and nine of eleven, are all pitchers – with only Lee seeming to still have a shot at stardom. We’ve known for a while that the Dodger system was pitching-heavy – the graduation of Dee Gordon & Jerry Sands off of lists like these doesn’t help, of course – but this really lays the flaws in the offensive side of the minors bare.

* Might we actually have a Ronald Belisario sighting this year? ESPN’s Tony Jackson claims that Belisario is already in Arizona, weeks ahead of schedule.

* Finally, the softball tourney Mike from The Left Field Pavilion is putting together is fast approaching, and it looks like some teams still need players. It’s for a good cause, so participate if you can.

Ronald Belisario Is Suspended, And That’s Great News

Via Steve Dilbeck, we’ve learned that if Ronald Belisario actually does show up to camp this year, he’ll be suspended for the first 25 games of the season. We don’t know exactly why that is or even when the offense took place – I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence that this comes out the day after we find out he might actually get a visa – but considering his history and how much of his last three years have been shrouded in mystery, it’s not exactly a surprise.

While it’s rare that a suspension can be seen as a positive,  I think in this case, it is, because it gives the Dodgers more time to evaluate what they have. Belisario is a completely unreliable quantity at this point, following up his surprisingly good 2009 with an underwhelming (though, I’d argue, somewhat underrated) 2010 and a completely lost 2011. Though he’s been pitching in Venezuelan leagues, it’s anyone’s guess what kind of shape he’s in or if his demons are truly behind him. Since he’s out of options, the team would be forced to carry him on the roster, trade him, or expose him to waivers if they wanted to send him down. The suspension allows them until about the end of April to evaluate him under the eyes of team personnel, either in Los Angeles or Arizona, and it also gives them time to see how the rest of their bullpen shakes out, because someone always gets hurt or is brutally ineffective in the first month.

It’s not like they’re desperate for him immediately, anyway. The Dodgers usually carry seven relievers as part of a twelve-man staff, and if the season were to start today, five spots in the bullpen are all but guaranteed:

R Javy Guerra
R Kenley Jansen
R Matt Guerrier
R Blake Hawksworth
L Scott Elbert

The sixth man is almost certainly going to be Josh Lindblom, who impressed in his debut last year, though since he has options remaining his spot isn’t completely guaranteed. The final spot, as usual, will be a battle between non-roster invites like John Grabow, Wil Ledezma, Angel Guzman & friends, young players pushing for a job like Nathan Eovaldi & Shawn Tolleson, and whatever veteran reliever Ned Colletti insists he’s still going to bring in, whether it’s Mike MacDougal or someone like him.

Anyway, it’s all moot until Belisario actually shows up, which I won’t believe until I physically see him on the mound. If he’s not as good as his 2009 2.04 ERA would have you believe, nor was he as poor as his 2010 5.04 mark would suggest, and he could be an interesting piece out of the ‘pen. Frankly, I don’t mind waiting an extra month to find out.

Casey Blake Brings the Beard to the Mountains

I’d be lying if I said I very badly wanted Casey Blake back with the Dodgers, considering that he’s spent the last two years being underwhelming and injured since his solid 2009 campaign. That said, now that we’re learning he’s signed with Colorado for one year and $2m, I can’t help but thinking the Rockies are getting a pretty good deal. With the top four players on the third base depth chart moving on from 2011 – that’d be Ty Wigginton, Ian Stewart, Jose Lopez, and Kevin Kouzmanoff – the Rockies needed someone to help Jordan Pacheco keep the seat warm for hotshot prospect Nolan Arenado, at least assuming they weren’t really going to play Michael Cuddyer there. (Though who knows, maybe they’ll still sign up for that particular brand of hilarity.)

Blake’s not an everyday starter any longer, though he does love playing at Coors (career line of .311/.368/.631 in 113 PAs) and could make for a decent enough bench piece, especially considering Colorado is full of lefties at the four corners, like Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Carlos Gonzalez, and Seth Smith. (At which point he’ll be traded back to Cleveland for Carlos Santana. That’s how this works, right?)

And if not? If he gets hurt, or is just plain awful? Well, it’s a $2m commitment, which is to say, not really much of a commitment at all. Considering some of the contracts the Dodgers have handed out this winter, it’s hard to argue this from Colorado’s end.

So long, Casey, and best of luck… right up until you inevitably crush a game-winning homer off Mike MacDougal. It’ll happen. Mark it.

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Of course, two minutes after I published this post, far more important news comes out. Might we finally see Ronald Belisario again?

Reliever Ronald Belisario, who missed last season because he was unable to gain entry into the United States, has been granted a visa and is expected to be in camp for the start of spring training, according to his agent.

“He should be ready to go,” said Rick Oliver, who represents Belisario.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but if true, it could be an enormous boost to the bullpen.

Winter Meetings, Day One (Updated)

Update, 3:23pm PST:

And there it is. According to Ken Rosenthal, Hairston is done for 2/$6m. But there’s also this:

#Dodgers still working on Harang. Deal expected to be north of Capuano. Two years, $12M range

You know why? WINS AND ERA. Harang wasn’t better than Capuano last year. But he’s getting paid like he was because he had more wins and a lower ERA. Aaaaaaand head asplode.

Update, 3:03pm PST:

More fun! The Dodgers reportedly have a two-year offer out to utilityman Jerry Hairston, Jr. In theory, I don’t mind this, because unlike Adam Kennedy, Hairston has some offensive value and can play all over. But what’s with all of the two-year deals? Capuano got two. Mark Ellis got two. Harang reportedly will get two. Hairston, now, might have two. I’d say that Ned Colletti was looking to take next winter off entirely… if not for the fact that I desperately hope that’s happening regardless.

Update, 2:16pm PST:

Ken Gurnick at dodgers.com with news of two additional non-roster invites in addition to Shane Lindsay and Wil Ledezma, who we already knew about: pitcher Jose Ascanio and infielder Jeff Baisley. I’d be lying if I said I’d ever heard of either. Baisley, 29 this month, is a corner infielder who had a brief cup of coffee with the 2008 A’s, but has otherwise spent the last four years inflating his stats in the rarified air of the PCL. Ascanio, 27 in May, has seen big-league time in 46 games over parts of four seasons with the Pirates, Cubs, and Braves. In 30 games (five starts) for Pittsburgh’s Triple-A club in 2011, he struck out 50 in 44 innings, so that’s something. More Albuquerque fodder.

Update, 12:31pm PST:

All sorts of reports are landing that the Dodgers are nearing a deal with Aaron Harang. We’ll see how the dollar figures land before we judge; Harang was pretty bad outside of Petco last year, but you just cannot start the season with Nathan Eovaldi in the rotation. (Also, I suppose this answers the Hoffmann waiver as well.)

Also, hey, Harang, Ted Lilly, and Chris Capuano in the same rotation? Man, this team is totally going to win that 2006 wild card.

Update, 12:13pm PT:

Well, here’s a thing: per the official Colorado Rockies Twitter, the Dodgers have lost outfielder Jamie Hoffmann on waivers to their division rivals. This is the second time the Dodgers have said goodbye to Hoffmann, who was claimed by the Yankees in the 2010 Rule 5 draft before being returned before the end of camp. I’ve always felt that Hoffmann could have been useful as a reserve outfielder with a little pop who could play solid defense at all three positions, but he never really got a chance with the big club despite plenty of turnover around Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

The 40-man roster was full until Hoffmann was lost, and today was the deadline to set the 40-man before Thursday’s Rule 5 draft, making it possible the Dodgers are setting up for a claim. That, or another free agent signing, I suppose.

Update, 10:05am PT:

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports the Dodgers are close to signing former Baltimore & Arizona reliever Alberto Castillo to a minor-league deal. In 79 MLB games over parts of the last four seasons, he’s got a 5.02 FIP and 1.78 K/BB, so he’ll be Triple-A filler at best. Despite his limited MLB experience, he’ll turn 37 next July; after some minor league time in the Giants & Yankees systems from 1994-98, he didn’t turn up again in American affiliated baseball until 2008.

Update, 9:50am PT:

This isn’t really a winter meetings rumor, but still fun to share. John Sickels has released his top 20 Dodger prospect list over at Minor League Ball, and to no one’s surprise Zach Lee tops the chart. Sadly, neither Tim Federowicz or the two relievers obtained in the Trayvon Robinson trade even make the top 20. It’s worth a click to see all of Sickels’ comments; here’s how he sums up the system:

The Dodgers farm system isn’t in terrific condition, but it’s not bad, either. They have good strength in right-handed starting pitching: Lee, Eovaldi, Webster, Gould, Sanchez, and Withrow could all develop into workhorse starters and perhaps more. Lee has the best projection and gets the highest grade, but all of these guys have the stuff to succeed, if they stay healthy, of course. There are also several impressive relief arms, beginning with Josh Lindblom who has already shown what he can do in the majors. Keep a close eye on sleeper prospect Red Patterson, who I might bump up to a C+.

Chris Reed and the now-overlooked Aaron Miller provide some southpaw balance as potential mid-rotation starters. Lefty efficiency specialist Mike Antonini is a Grade C type, but was added to the 40-man roster and has the potential to be a surprise. Guys like him sometimes pitch better with a major league defense behind them than they do in the minors, at least in short stretches.

The system is a lot weaker with position players. There are some exciting tools guys (Baldwin stands out) in the organization, but only Silverio and Pederson have shown much polish, the former after a long struggle. Pederson could have the highest grade a year from now if he performs well in full-season ball. There is a group of interesting power hitters (Songco, Smith, Van Slyke, Russell, possibly Dickson) who put up big numbers, but have flaws in their approach, are old for the level, or lack the tools to interest scouts. They should at least get a role player out of that group, although which one it will be is hard to say. Catching prospect Gorman Erickson needs a lot more attention than he’s received. Baseball America loves Tim Federowicz. I respect his glove and he’ll have a long career, but I don’t see his bat being good enough for him to get beyond role player status.

Original post:

As we’ve done in years past around here, I’ll do something of a “live blog” format each day of the winter meetings, since the news and rumors tend to fly so fast that it’s the only way to keep track of what’s going on. As each ludicrous, unbelievable story from a “source” flows in, I’ll update the post as warranted.

Let’s get the party started with a few notes:

** The Marlins beat everyone to the punch by signing Jose Reyes to a reported 6/$106m deal last night, which is probably going to result in Hanley Ramirez moving to third base while Chris Coghlan and Emilio Bonifacio handle center field. This has nothing to do with the Dodgers – though as a baseball fan, I have to admit I’m enjoying seeing the Marlins make some moves, given that they already have Heath Bell and are reportedly still attempting to get Albert Pujols and a starting pitcher – but assuming that Ramirez does agree to the move, that means that 2007 first-round pick Matt Dominguez is going to get blocked at the hot corner. Though he’s reportedly one of the best defensive third basemen around, the Chatsworth product has never really lived up to his offensive hype in the minors, hitting just .255/.325/.418 in parts of five seasons on the farm. However, he made his MLB debut last year and is only three months past his 22nd birthday, and the Dodgers have absolutely nothing at the position in the minors, so I’d be interested in checking in to see if he could be picked up relatively cheaply.

** From the “same time next year?” files: Ken Gurnick reports that Ronald Belisario, missing in action since the end of 2010 with visa issues, is still trying to return to the Dodgers. In other news, I want a date with Alison Brie. Seriously though, if he’s able to get past his legal concerns and return to the US, he’d be a welcome addition, since he was so good in 2009 and a bit underrated due to ERA in 2010. I have no idea if the Dodgers would even be interested in him at this point, and it’s hard to blame them if they’ve decided to simply wash their hands of him. Still, the performance he’s capable of for the minimum salary is intriguing.

Of course, since it’s likely he never gets his visa issues sorted out, this is probably a conversation that’s not even worth having.

** Don’t get too excited about this, but it’s worth at least sharing Buster Olney’s tweet from this morning…

The representatives for Clayton Kershaw have had early contact with the Dodgers about a long-term deal,but no serious talks have taken place

While this would of course be fantastic, I find it incredibly unlikely that Kershaw could get an extension in the same winter as Matt Kemp, especially considering all of the payroll issues. As Olney says, the talks aren’t too serious yet anyway. If Kershaw did sign this winter, he could probably expect something like a 5/$80m deal.

** Finally, a reminder to keep some perspective this week. We’re all well aware by now that the offseason rumors we see in the age of Twitter are 90% posturing and BS; well, with all of the execs, agents, and media in the same place – and let’s face it, the same bars – you can be sure that the rumors that come from this week are to be taken with a grain of salt 100 times as large. (Which I suppose makes them 9000% posturing and BS, which, while mathematically impossible, sounds about right.)

Just remember, on the first day alone of the meetings last year, these were two actual rumors that popped up:

Tony Jackson with our first “HOLY CRAP!” moment:

Multiple sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Tony Jackson on Monday that the Brewers are talking to the Dodgers about a deal that would send Prince Fielder from Milwaukee to Los Angeles for Loney and embattled closer Jonathan Broxton.

Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes.

and:

RT @washingnats: #Dodgers want #Nats SS Ian Desmond and RHP Jordan Zimmermann for James Loney

HAHAHAHA. Um, and I want a pony.

So just keep that in mind this week when you see someone suggesting that Matt Guerrier might get moved for Bryce Harper, okay?

Ronald Belisario’s Troubles Are Far From Over

This morning, it was “we don’t expect Ronald Belisario to arrive today.” Okay, no one really expected him to be completely on time, so if he’s a day or two late, no big deal. Right?

Yeah, about that

Ronald Belisario could miss the 2011 season, according to his agent, Paul Kinzer.

Pitchers and catchers were supposed to report to the Dodgers’ spring-training complex on Wednesday, but Belisario wasn’t there. The hard-throwing reliever reported late to camp in each of the last two years because of visa problems.

His latest problems could be more serious.

Kinzer would not specify why Belisario was still in his native Venezuela. But asked if Belisario was having trouble securing a visa, Kinzer replied, “It goes a little deeper than that.”

Kinzer said he didn’t think Belisario would be able to enter the United States at any time this year.

“Unless some things change drastically, I’m not very optimistic at this point,” Kinzer said.

Every time I read that quote, all I can think of is Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: “Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.”

(Cue Belisario: “I killed a guy with a trident. I stabbed him right in the heart.”)

I’m going to predict the fan reaction here, and that’ll be “cut him loose! He’s unreliable! We don’t need him! Get rid of him!” That’s fair, but also unnecessary. If he doesn’t report, then the team can just put him on the restricted list, freeing up the 40-man roster spot. Any action beyond that is obviously going to depend greatly on what the circumstances are here, though I must admit I’m less interested in knowing what’s really going on than I am in knowing why this is just being brought to light now.

There’s always a silver lining, however, and in this case there’s two. First, seems like I’ll be able to keep up the “Has Belisario Reported Yet?” image on the sidebar there for quite some time. Second, you know there’s a few guys doing a jig in Arizona right now – guys like Blake Hawksworth, Ron Mahay, Ramon Troncoso, Scott Elbert, and even Lance Cormier, who all just saw their chances of making the club rise by quite a bit.

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Unrelated, but still interesting. All winter, we’ve been treating it as a foregone conclusion that Tony Gwynn, Jay Gibbons, and Marcus Thames would all make the team because of their major-league contracts. Not so fast, says Tony Jackson

Gibbons’ ability to play first base and the outfield could be a factor in the ultimate decision as to whether to go with five infielders and six outfielders or vice versa. But although Gibbons’ contract is technically a major league deal, the fact that he has to actually make the club to get the last $250,000 of his $650,000 salary means he isn’t viewed as a lock. If he has a bad spring and the Dodgers cut him loose, that would open a spot for an outfielder — presumably Paul — and another utility infielder. Thames could serve as the backup first baseman if Gibbons isn’t around.

I still think that Gibbons is an overwhelming favorite to make the club – whether that’s deserved or not – but this is the first indication we’ve heard that his chances may be at something less than 100%. It gives Xavier Paul a ray of hope, anyway.

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Finally, as you’ve no doubt seen elsewhere, Don Mattingly named Clayton Kershaw as the Opening Day starter today. I’ve long felt that the gig was completely overrated, but I definitely dig Mattingly’s style of getting it out of the way on the first day, rather than waiting until camp was nearly over like Joe Torre did last year.