Twelve Thoughts: Dodgers Ownership, Upton and Griffey, All-Star Bonuses
Time to make amends, commish. You steered Frank and Jamie McCourt, the dodgy duo from the Evil Coast, into control of the Dodgers. They've shown they weren't to be trusted. Baseball deserves better. The West Coast deserves better. Millions of Dodgers fans deserve better.
Listen to L.A. Superior Court judge Scott Gordon, who recently suggested the McKooks should sell the club. Confirming what West Coast Bias wrote here last month, Gordon cited divorce-related findings that the McKooks used the Dodgers as a giant ATM machine: "It is clear that the Dodger organization and the numerous affiliated businesses supported the parties' extraordinary lifestyle and the maintenance of real property."
Dennis Gilbert, the former baseball agent, warrants consideration as a potential successor in L.A.
• Hitters who reach base against right-handers are a shopping priority for the Padres.
San Diego's front office views the team's paltry .316 on-base percentage against right-handers as a significant weakness that needs addressing via trade. To no avail, Padres exec Paul DePodesta targeted corner outfielder Luke Scott a few years ago, and this year Scott has given the Orioles a .362 OBP and .546 slugging percentage against right-handers. Scott seemingly would cost less in a trade than Royals outfielder David DeJesus, a better defender who's taxed righties for a .396 OBP.
• Baseball needs to be on the fix-it list of new USC athletic director Pat Haden. USC alums in the baseball world depict the once-proud Trojans baseball program as a Friends and Family plan. Players who years ago wouldn't sniff the ballfield at USC ended up on the team in recent years partly because of powerful family or social connections.
Tired of seeing the likes of Washington State beat the stuffing out of Chad Kreuter's Trojans, some USC true believers actually talk enviously of UCLA's program. Haden, a former USC quarterback, remembers when the Trojans were a baseball power. If he wants to revive the program, he needs to weed out the influence peddling.
• The West Coast remains home to the NBA's best team. Take it from Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., the hoops lover who said here last month that Ron Artest would lead the Lakers past the Celtics in Game 7.
"The Lakers are still the team to beat. They will be deeper than this year's team. The defense should be better, and Steve Blake is going to help run the offense more consistently." Gwynn agrees with West Coast Bias that LeBron James will show everyone he's a stronger, faster Magic Johnson. But he says of the Heat: "I want to see if they can make the jumpshot. Teams are going to play off Dwyane Wade and LeBron. Will they make the jumpshot? And who do they have to guard Pao Gasol?"
• The next Diamondbacks GM may want to go a 99 Cent Store, just to get in the right mood. Money is drying up in the desert. The club says the per capita income in its market is the smallest in baseball. Snakes are on pace to lose about 100 games, and.from what scouts say about the farm system, a long-term rebuilding project is in order.
With the All-Star Game coming to Phoenix next summer, D'backs are dangling All-Star tickets as incentive to buy season tickets for 2011. With cuts looming in the player payroll, the Snakes have little else to promote.
• No rival knows the Diamondbacks better than the Padres. Am still hearing that deposed D'backs GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch could end up as consultants with the rival Padres while drawing salaries from Arizona. Byrnes was at San Diego's ballpark shortly after he was fired. His wife is from San Diego, and like Hinch, Byrnes is tight with Padres CEO Jeff Moorad. Padres GM Jed Hoyer also is a friend of Byrnes. The Padres likely have a lot of dope on the D'backs, which couldn't have hurt during San Diego's three-game sweep of Arizona last week.
• Comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. were grossly unfair to Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton.
A former high school shortstop, Upton struggled defensively in right field to start his major league career and, though improved, continues to misjudge flyballs. Griffey Jr. was a natural ball-tracker from the start of his career. Scouts recall Griffey as a teen playing the sun field at Tempe Diablo Stadium better than veterans do in spring training. Simply, there was no comparison in their innate ball-tracking skill. That's not Upton's fault. It's a reminder of how talented Griffey was.
As a hitter, Upton isn't off to a Griffey-like start to his career, but when he's up, you shouldn't go to the concessions stand. The ball rockets off the 22-year-old's bat. "Will he be Griffey?" said D'backs hitting coach Jack Howell. "I don't know, but he's a pretty talented kid."
• Brewers closer John Axford is impressing a teammate who knows a few things about the job.
Asked by FanHouse to name closers who regularly will draw All-Star consideration in years ahead, Trevor Hoffman mentioned, among others, Axford, his 27-year-old bullpen mate who has kept the all-time save leader in middle relief by going 12-for-12 on save bids.
"He has a plus fastball and a very good breaking ball," Hoffman said. "His control will continue to come. It's a composure thing, and he's got that part down. Whether it translates into long-term success, we don't know."
• The Giants get too much flak for their handling of Buster Posey. If the Giants barely miss the playoffs, critics will say they waited too long to call up Posey. Would Posey be playing as well, though, if he had been thrust into the catching role too soon?
Padres catcher Nick Hundley said it took him two years in the majors to get fairly comfortable at digesting all of the scouting reports, calling a game and reading his pitcher and opposing hitters during the game. Hundley had a lot more catching time than Posey, a former college shortstop and closer. The Giants were wise to spot him at first base to help him acclimate to major league pitching and allow him to learn Giants pitchers. His catching needs work, but scouts say it's improving by the day.
Heard this from a veteran scout: As a hitter, Posey already covers as much of the strike zone as some very good veterans.
• Baseball clubs no longer hand out All-Star bonuses like they are Cracker Jack. More than 20 players didn't get bonus money for being on an All-Star team last week. Exempted as a matter of course are players fairly new to the majors or those who went to arbitration the previous winter, but clubs such as the Yankees, Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks aren't paying All-Star bonuses even to veterans.
Padres closer Heath Bell was irked to hear this week that he didn't get an All-Star bonus, which tends to be $50,000. Moorad, who took over the Padres last year, forbids performance bonuses to players. "I'm going to be ticked if that's true," Bell told FanHouse. "And they (Padres officials) aren't going to like me if I'm ticked." Bell is arbitration eligible next winter. His salary is $4 million.
Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells would've received $100,000 had he collected the most All-Star votes.
• Adrian Gonzalez certainly has earned the $700,000 in extra salary he's due next season. Gonzalez's club option for 2011 was originally set at $5.5 million. It's now at $6.2 million. How did the Padres' first baseman pick up the extra $700,000? Lots of heavy lifting.
It took three All-Star selections, two Gold Gloves and more than 1,650 plate appearances from 2008-10 for Gonzalez to trigger the bonuses that San Diego's former front office had put into place. The Padres aren't complaining. Gonzalez's salary still looms as a huge bargain.
• Hate to say it, but I can't recall a baseball season with worse umpiring. With the World Cup over and NFL camps yet to open, baseball has the sports stage to itself for the first time all season. What are fans seeing? Too many blown calls. For all the good work being done by umps -- and there are many excellent umps -- the game seems a bit too fast for several of them.
Hall of Fame-bound umpire Doug Harvey disagrees, telling me that the media blows mistakes out of proportion and does a poor job of explaining rules. He makes two good points, but all I can go on is what I see. It's never been worse in my 16 years of covering baseball. Sadly, the blown call at the plate that cost the Giants a victory over the Mets wasn't surprising. Several umps underestimate how hard it is for a catcher to field a throw and get low enough to tag a baserunner. As for gimme strikes on 3-0 and strikes that are called balls because the pitcher didn't hit his target, more later.