Springtime Storylines: Will the McCourt divorce impact the Dodgers on the field?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Rockies.


The
big question: Will the McCourt divorce impact the Dodgers on the field?

Frank and Jamie have obviously been the big story coming out of DodgerLand all winter and will likely continue to be as each new court filing brings forth five or six new allegations of bad behavior and jaw-dropping extravagance.  The only people thankful for this state of affairs are nogoodnik bloggers like my buddy Josh and me, the divorce lawyers and Manny Ramirez, who for once isn’t the center of media attention.

While the circus coincided with a winter during which the Dodgers were surprisingly quiet on the hot stove front — Brad Ausmus! Jamey Carroll! — Frank McCourt is telling everyone who will listen that the divorce has had no impact on the Dodgers from a competitive perspective and that everything is hunky dory. I suppose we should take his word for it — 28 other teams didn’t sign John Lackey after all — but there are two ways in which L’affaire McCourt could harm the team this season: (1) as a distraction, with players being asked about it constantly; and (2) as a financial constraint, preventing the Dodgers from making mid-season moves which could keep them in contention.

Given how much experience the team has with MannyWood, the second of those is a far greater concern.  The Dodgers have a nice starting eight, but there is very little depth here. If, say, Matt Kemp misses any time or Manny Ramirez’s second half was a harbinger of his rapid decline, the team is going to have to make a move or three in order to keep up with Colorado. Based on everything we’ve seen from the front office these past few months, the Dodgers are not in the move-making business.  As a result, Dodgers fans had better hope and pray for good health.

Oh, and if Jamie McCourt somehow wins the custody battle this fall and claims a 50 percent ownership of the club, look for 2011 to be one of the uglier years in Dodger history. Because I don’t believe for a second that she or Frank has the money to buy the other one out and the sale of the team will become more or less inevitable. 

So
what
else is
going on?

  • McCourts or no McCourts, it’s not like Manny Ramirez has just rolled over and played dead.  The big question, obviously, is whether post-suspension Manny (.269 13 HR 43 RBI) is the new normal or if his swoon was merely a function of a high-strung performer reacting poorly due to the disruption of his chi and his hormone supply and all that. He’s 38, though, so some decline is inevitable. Given his defensive limitations Manny has to hit the ball hard to be worth his keep.
  • I mentioned Troy Tulowitzki as a possible MVP pick in the Rockies preview. However, if the Dodgers beat out the Rockies seats on the Matt Kemp bandwagon will be at a premium. He’s the most exciting young outfielder in baseball, possessing a mix of speed, power and centerfield defense that leaves one at a loss for comparisons to anyone who isn’t already a Hall of Famer. And he’s getting better, as his strikeout and walk rates have been decreasing and increasing, respectively. It’s all rather scary, frankly.

  • Though the Dodgers had the best pitching in all of baseball last year, the rotation is a concern. Randy Wolf is gone, Chad Billingsley faded terribly in the second half and, for as nice a pickup Vicente Padilla turned out to be, you’re not going to get rich betting on things such as “Padilla will continue to strike out a batter an inning and post an ERA of 3.20 for a full season.”  The key, obviously, is Clayton Kershaw, who broke out with a 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 171 innings last year.  If he carries on with that kind of production and stays healthy the Dodgers have their ace. If, like a lot of 23 year-old pitchers, he has a few more bumps in the road before becoming a perennial Cy Young candidate, it may be tough sledding for the staff.
  • The pen is a source of real strength. Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso and Hong Chih Kuo are all pretty fabulous. If the Dodgers do suffer injuries or falloff from key performers, they could leverage some of this strength in a deal or two.

So
how
are they gonna do?

Picking the Dodgers for second place is less a criticism of their talent — which is undeniable — than it is a simple discount for their risk. If something happens to the outfield, there is no 2009 Juan Pierre on this team that is going to save their bacon. Same goes for the rotation, which has question marks.  It would not surprise me terribly if the Dodgers won 95 games again, but it’s not something I feel comfortable wagering on either.  

Prediction: Second place in the NL West in what I expect will be a pretty close race with the Rockies all summer.

Yoenis Cespedes says he does not plan to opt out of his contract

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 04: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets reacts after he hit a two run double in the eighth inning inning against the Miami Marlins during a game at Citi Field on July 4, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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Yoenis Cespedes is in the first year of a three-year, $75 million deal with the Mets that includes an opt-out clause leading into 2017. It’s a great situation for him. If he was hurt or ineffective this year, hey, he still gets $75 million. If he rakes he can go back out on the free agent market this November and see if he can’t do better than the two years and $50 million he’ll have left.

Cespedes said today, however, that he does not plan to exercise his opt-out this winter:

Speaking through an interpreter, Cespedes stayed on message, saying his focus is on “helping the team win so we can hopefully make it to the playoffs.”

When asked by The Record’s Matt Ehalt if he intended to honor all three years of his current $75 million contract, without opting out, Cespedes flatly said, “Yes.”

The beautiful thing about baseball contracts is that the Bergen Record is not a party to them and thus statements made to them about the contract are not legally binding. Cespedes can most certainly change his mind on the matter — or just lie to the press even if he fully intends to opt-out — and nothing can be done to him. At least nothing apart from having someone write bad things about him, but that’s gonna happen anyway. The guy can’t play golf without someone who has no idea how to Cespedes’ job say that he “just doesn’t get it.”

So, will Cespedes opt-out? He’s certainly making a case that it’d be a wise thing to do purely on financial terms. He’s hitting .295/.365/.570 with 25 homers in 98 games. And those numbers are dragged down a bit by the fact that the Mets kept playing him through an injury for the second half of July.

Maybe Cespedes just likes New York and maybe he’s happy with his two-year, $50 million guarantee and won’t opt out. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with the drama and uncertainty of free agency again, even if he would have no trouble finding a job. Maybe he thinks that he’ll fall short of the $25 million average annual value he’s looking at for 2017 and 2018 if he opts out, even if he does get a longer deal as a result.

We have no idea and we have no say. But it’s not hard to imagine that, if he keeps hitting and especially if he helps the Mets get into the playoffs, he’d be leaving a ton of money on the table if he doesn’t test the market once again.

Oakland A’s officials taking a tour of a possible waterfront ballpark site

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  A Maersk Line container ship sits docked in a berth  at the Port of Oakland on February 19, 2015 in Oakland, California. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) longshoremen at the Port of Oakland took the day shift off today to attend a union meeting amidst ongoing contract negotiations between dockworkers and terminal operators at west coast ports. The port closure, the seventh one this month, has left 12 container ships stuck at the dock with no workers to load and unload them. The ILWU members at 29 West Coast ports have been without a contract for 9 months. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The Oakland Athletics’ ballpark saga has gone on for years now, with false starts in Fremont and San Jose, lawsuits and seemingly interminable talks with the City of Oakland over a new place on the current Coliseum site. That’s all complicated, of course, by the presence of the Raiders, on whose address — be it Oakland, Las Vegas or someplace else — the A’s future is still largely contingent.

The city has tried to get the A’s interested in a waterfront site for several years now. There are a lot of problems with that due mostly to zoning and regulatory matters, as well as proximity to transit and other practical concerns. The artist’s renderings are often pretty, but it takes more than artist’s renderings to make a good ballpark plan.

But no one is giving up on that and, it seems, even the A’s are willing to at least listen to such proposals now:

Oakland A’s co-owner John Fisher is expected to join officials Thursday for a hush-hush tour of the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, a cargo-loading area near Jack London Square that Mayor Libby Schaaf tirelessly promotes as “a fantastic site for a ballpark.”

Guess it ain’t so “hush-hush” anymore. As with all Oakland ballpark stories, however, feel free to continue snoozing until someone gives us a real reason to wake up.

Note: The above photo is from the Port of Oakland. I have no idea what the proximity of the working part of the city’s port is to where they’d build a ballpark, but I used this picture because I love the story about how George Lucas spotted those things from an airplane as he was leaving Oakland or San Francisco or whatever and used them as inspiration for the AT-AT Imperial Walkers in “Empire Strikes Back.” Which may be a totally aprocyphal story, but one I love so much that I told it to my kids when we flew in to Oakland back in June and will choose to believe despite whatever evidence you provide.