Glendale project moving forward

It now appears that the only thing that could still prevent the Dodgers from holding spring training in Glendale, Ariz., in 2009 is a natural disaster — and unlike hurricane-prone Florida, the Grand Canyon State isn’t exactly synonymous with natural disasters.

I’m out for the next two and a half weeks. Happy Holidays to all, and thanks to every one of you who helped make this blog a success in 2007. I’ll see you in January.

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
Although it now appears the Dodgers won’t officially know until sometime next month whether their new spring-training facility in Glendale, Ariz., will be ready by 2009 — and although there had been no communication between the team and the city by late Thursday afternoon — there doesn’t seem to be any cause for concern.
Julie Frisoni, communications director for the city of Glendale, said she was reassured once again by construction manager Tom Harrison of the M.A. Mortenson Company that the project remains on schedule.
“He said that based on where they are, there is no reason they can’t open in (the spring of) 2009,” Frisoni said. “Everything is on track to move forward at this pace. … The only thing that could throw it off at this point is weather, a natural disaster or something catastrophic of that nature.”
Although the Dodgers were under the impression there was a contractual deadline of this past Monday for the developer to provide a “guaranteed maximum price,” Frisoni said that deadline was actually for sometime during the week of Dec. 17, not that specific date.
“It wasn’t a hard-and-fast deadline, but the expectation was that the city would receive the GMP from (the developer) at that time,” Frisoni said. “We did receive a preliminary draft document late (Wednesday). We have really just gotten our hands on that and are now starting to go through it line by line and number by number.”
Frisoni said the next step for city officials will be to meet with representatives of the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, who will share the facility. Those meetings probably will take place shortly after the holidays. After all parties complete a line-item examination of the document and possibly add or eliminate certain elements, the developer, Rick Burton of RightPath Ltd., will come back with a final, binding GMP.
For now, neither the Dodgers nor the White Sox are on the hook for any construction costs. Two-thirds of the project — which is expected to ultimately cost between $80 million and $90 million — is being funded by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority. Burton and RightPath are expected to fund the rest, partially from revenues generated by retail and restaurant development adjacent to the baseball complex.

Jim Slaton new Vegas pitching coach

Jim Slaton, an Antelope Valley High School graduate who pitched for the Angels for 2 1/2 seasons (1984-86) at the tail end of a 16-year career in the majors, is the new pitching coach for the Dodgers’ Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate. He replaces Ken Howell, who was promoted last month to major-league bullpen coach. Slaton, 57, spent the past 11 seasons with Seattle, the past three as the Mariners’ big-league bullpen coach, but was let go with a handful of other coaches in October. He was a minor league pitching coach for 13 consecutive seasons with four different organizations from 1992-2004 before moving up to the major-league staff with Seattle in 2005. Slaton had a 151-158 record and a 4.03 ERA in the majors, primarily as a starter, and he spent the bulk of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers. The rest of the Dodgers’ minor-league coaching staff for 2008 is expected to be announced later this week.

The latest on Glendale vs. Vero

Glendale holding up the Dodgers, Dodgers holding up Vero, Vero holding up the Orioles. Sounds like it’s all going to eventually work out for all parties involved. For now, though, there seems to be a lot of nervousness — and a lot of insisting that no one should worry because EVERYTHING IS FINE!!!!

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
The Dodgers will have to wait at least two more days before learning whether their new spring-training facility in Glendale, Ariz., will be completed in time for them to hold their first camp there in 2009.
A representative of the city of Glendale denied on Tuesday that any deadline had passed for providing the Dodgers with that information. It had been widely reported that the city was expected to tell the Dodgers by Monday, but club officials still haven’t received word.
“I think there was a misunderstanding, and the Dodgers thought the deadline was the 17th,” said Julie Frisoni, Glendale’s communications director. “I believe the deadline is Thursday. We haven’t been given those documents (by) the builder. I am pretty close to positive that we will know by Thursday.”
Meanwhile, city officials in the Dodgers’ current spring home of Vero Beach, Fla., remain in limbo in their discussions with a possible replacement team — believed to be the Baltimore Orioles — because they aren’t sure whether the Dodgers will vacate in 2009 or 2010.
Tom Harrison, the construction manager for the M.A. Mortenson Company, the firm contracted to build the complex in Glendale, didn’t return repeated calls to his office from the Daily News. But Frisoni said the project remains on schedule, along with any built-in safeguards against delays due to inclement weather.
“Arizona is like California in that we don’t often have weather issues in terms of (affecting) construction,” Frisoni said. “If it were to happen, Tom has spoken about working double shifts or weekends or whatever it took. I think he will also tell you that several other (spring-training) ballparks built recently in Arizona all have been built on this time frame, and it’s a pretty standard time frame for (a project of) this nature.”
The Dodgers will share the $80.7 million complex — two-thirds of which is being funded by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority — with the Chicago White Sox. But the White Sox aren’t expected to move into the new facility until 2010 because of issues surrounding their current lease in Tucson, Ariz.
For now, the lack of certainty on the Dodgers’ part is beginning to wear thin on officials in Vero Beach. Joe Baird, an Indian River County administrator who is spearheading negotiations with the Orioles, didn’t return repeated messages from the Daily News. But Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers reported on Sunday that Baird is contemplating a legal action against the Dodgers to force them to provide a definitive answer.
The paper also said negotiations with an unnamed replacement team could be jeopardized by the Dodgers’ uncertainty. The Orioles presently train in an outdated, substandard facility in Fort Lauderdale, at least an hour’s drive from any other Grapefruit League complex.

This year’s Maytag repairman is … Gary Bennett

Dodgers just signed him to a one-year, $825,000 contract, which is $325,000 less than Mike Lieberthal made as last year’s backup catcher but still probably slightly above what Russell Martin will make as a third-year big leaguer — despite the fact Martin is an All-Star and probably will start at least 135 games. What a system. Anyway, just talked to Ned, and he said it was made clear to Bennett in the negotiating process that he won’t be playing much — although he’ll play more than Lieberthal did if the rest of the lineup is more productive. The fact it wasn’t productive last year is the reason Grady couldn’t sit Russ very often, because they had to have his bat in there.
I’m plagiarizing the following paragraph from myself, as I wrote it in the print edition one day last week. Cut-and-paste is a wonderful thing:

Bennett, a career backup who will turn 36 in April, batted .252 while catching 52 games for St. Louis this season, striking out just 16 times in 155 at-bats.

Frank talk from Frank

McCourt addressed the Mitchell report at the Kuroda press conference today. Nothing too forceful, but he didn’t shy away from airing his opinions.

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt on Sunday offered his first public comment on baseball’s Mitchell Report — other than a carefully worded written statement issued through the team’s public relations department last Thursday, when the report was officially released.
Among other things, McCourt called for the players’ union to allow drug testing to be written into individual players’ contracts by their clubs, something that isn’t permitted under the game’s current labor agreement.
“In 1984, the Dodgers were one of two organizations who went to baseball and requested that we be allowed to put testing into players’ contracts,” said McCourt, who bought the club in 2004. “Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to put those provisions in. My plea to the union, as well as to my fellow owners, is, let’s get it right.”
Not surprisingly, McCourt trumpeted the fact that no current Dodgers player was named in the report as a user of steroids or HGH — even though three high-profile former Dodgers, pitchers Kevin Brown and Eric Gagne and catcher Paul Lo Duca, were.
“I don’t think we should look at the Mitchell Report as being the last word, that only those players (named) should be held accountable and that every one of those players is bad,” McCourt said. “That isn’t fair. We need to look at it more as a general statement.”

Kuroda agrees to three-year contract

The deal is pending results of a physical examination, which Kuroda took this morning at Centinela Hospital, but it’s done and believed to be worth between $36 million to $40 millon. Club officials aren’t commenting for now, but two sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed the deal within the past half hour. Expecting more details later in the day, but this is a huge pickup for the Dodgers. Kuroda will fall somewhere in the middle of the rotation, probably the third or fourth spot. Ned Colletti now has filled two of the club’s biggest holes (a starting pitcher and a CF) without giving up ANY of the Dodgers’ young players.

Tomorrow’s notes: Camille says goodbye

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
Camille Johnston, the Dodgers senior vice president for communications and chief spokesperson for the past two years, said on Friday that she is leaving the organization. She will be staying on through Jan. 1 to help oversee the club’s first-ever float entry in Pasadena’s annual Tournament of Roses parade.
Johnston’s departure, which is officially being termed a resignation, comes just two weeks after the club named Charles Steinberg as executive vice president for public relations and marketing. Steinberg’s hiring effectively inserted an additional bureaucratic layer between Johnston and Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt that hadn’t previously existed since Johnston joined the organization in October 2005.
“I thought about it for a while, and I think this is best for me, for the Dodgers and for the new person who is coming in,” Johnston said. “They hired new executives, and I think it is good for them to have a clean slate and be able to assemble their own team. … This was my decision after long discussions with the McCourts.”
The Dodgers also hired Dennis Mannion as chief operating officer on Nov. 7.
Despite Johnston’s claim that she is resigning, multiple sources within the organization confirmed that she is being forced out. It became apparent when Steinberg was hired on Nov. 27 that Johnston’s job might be in jeopardy. This despite the calming effect she had on the organization almost from the moment she arrived in the midst of a particularly stormy period in the club’s history.
At the time, the Dodgers were coming off a disastrous season in which they went 71-91 and finished fourth in the National League West. Meanwhile, the McCourts were being widely criticized by fans and the media for what was perceived to be a directionless stewardship of the club marked by a series of unexplained firings of key employees. General manager Paul DePodesta, meanwhile, had just fired manager Jim Tracy and was interviewing potential replacements, all the while unaware that he himself would be fired a few days later.
After bringing in Johnston, the McCourts seemed, presumably on Johnston’s advice, to fade into the background. The result was that they avoided much of the public criticism that had plagued their first year and a half after buying the club from NewsCorp in February 2004.
But the McCourts have long coveted Steinberg, a longtime Boston Red Sox executive who has worked for the Dodgers as a consultant since April. Johnston’s departure makes her the fourth communications chief to resign or be dismissed while the McCourts have owned the team.

The Dodgers could agree to terms with free agent Hiroki Kuroda as soon as today after making what general manager Ned Colletti called “significant progress” in negotiations with the right-hander from Japan on Friday.
“We had a couple of phone conversations,” Colletti said. “Hopefully, we’re closing in.”
Kuroda arrived in Los Angeles from Tokyo on Wednesday, but plans to return no later than Tuesday. The Dodgers have offered what is believed to be a three-year, $30 million contract.

The Dodgers offered no further comment Friday on the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball. There was a passage in the report referring to an organizational meeting in October 2003 in which club officials discussed possible steroid use by Dodgers players, but no current Dodgers player was implemented in the report.

Lost in the shuffle of a crazy day, there was nothing new on Kuroda

With tomorrow’s section chock-full of the Mitchell Report and steroids/hgh allegations, there simply wasn’t time or space to deal much with the Kuroda story — which was good, considering there was nothing new. He continues to meet with his agent. The fact he still hasn’t told the Dodgers he is planning to sign with them certainly isn’t a good sign, but it isn’t necessarily a bad one, either. All those reports (including mine) that he had made up his mind might have been a tad premature, but even the Seattle papers are starting to concede that it looks like the Mariners lost out on this guy.

Tomorrow’s notes: Kuroda still hasn’t told the Dodgers anything

He has, however, apparently made up his mind and told everyone in Japan that he plans to pitch for the Dodgers — something the Dodgers are still waiting to hear.

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
All indications are that free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a veteran right-hander for the Hiroshima Carp who is seeking to come to the United States, has decided to sign with the Dodgers after being pursued at various times this winter by as many as 20 major-league clubs. But if Kuroda has made such a decision, that is news to Dodgers officials.
General manager Ned Colletti said early Wednesday evening that the club still hadn’t received word from either Kuroda or his San Diego-based agent, Steve Hilliard, that a decision had been made. But Kuroda’s arrival in Los Angeles from Tokyo on Wednesday morning, along with a slew of media reports out of Japan, all point toward Kuroda accepting what is believed to be a three-year, $30 million offer from the Dodgers.
“His agent resides out here, so (the trip) shouldn’t be interpreted as anything other than him meeting with his representatives here in the U.S.,” Colletti said at a news conference to formally introduce Andruw Jones, the Dodgers’ newly signed center fielder.
Besides that of the Dodgers, the most valiant efforts to land Kuroda came from Seattle, Arizona and Kansas City. But Kuroda, 32, strongly prefers the West Coast. His ultimate decision to go with the Dodgers over the Mariners — assuming that widely reported decision has actually been made — apparently was the result of several factors, not the least of which were Los Angeles’ vast Asian population, more lucrative endorsement opportunities and Kuroda’s longtime friendship with Dodgers closer Takashi Saito.
“I’m sure that Takashi has said hello once or twice (during negotiations),” Colletti said. “Maybe more, I don’t know.”
In fact, Saito actually joined Dodgers Asian operations director Acey Kohrogi and Japan-based scout Keiichi Kojima at a face-to-face meeting with Kuroda last month in Hiroshima.
Kuroda will fall somewhere into the middle of the Dodgers’ starting rotation and probably force veteran right-hander Esteban Loaiza to the bullpen unless Jason Schmidt’s comeback from shoulder surgery hits a snag.

Jones said that while he prefers to hit fourth in the Dodgers’ lineup next season, the subject hasn’t come up in any of his discussions with manager Joe Torre. Jones hit cleanup almost exclusively with Atlanta until this year, when his struggles at the plate forced Braves manager Bobby Cox to bat him anywhere from fourth to seventh.
Inserting Jones into the Dodgers’ cleanup spot might create a dicey situation for Torre — and a bruised ego for the incumbent No. 4 hitter, second baseman Jeff Kent.
“We have spring training to go through all that,” Jones said. “I would love to hit fourth here, but it depends on what will happen.”

The Dodgers might have severed ties with left-handed reliever Mark Hendrickson, declining to offer him a contract before the deadline and thus rendering him a free agent. But the club still can re-sign him, and the move was made simply to avoid going through the arbitration process with Hendrickson, who went 4-8 with a 5.21 ERA this season while making $2.925 million.
As a five-plus player, Hendrickson stood to make between $3.5 million and $4 million through arbitration.
“We discussed with his agent (Joe Urbon) bringing him back at a different rate of pay, and he declined,” Colletti said. “We can still bring him back if the situation lends itself to both of us.”
The Dodgers did make offers to their four other arbitration-eligibles, pitchers Joe Beimel, Yhency Brazoban and Scott Proctor and outfielder Jason Repko. Beimel is a five-plus who should get a sizable raise from this year’s $912,500. Brazoban, Proctor and Repko all are three-plus players, and each is likely to fall well south of $1 million.

By the way here is a blog bonus that you won’t get by putting your 50 cents in the little blue box tomorrow, because the print edition has space limitations that the blog does not: the Dodgers now have a total of 14 players who have either been signed to minor-league contracts and invited to spring training or invited to camp from within the organization. The list includes three that have already been reported in pitcher Chan-Ho Park, catcher Rene Rivera and infielder Terry Tiffee, and the new additions are pitchers Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Koplove, Brian Falkenborg, Rick Asadoorian, Fernando Desgue (Fernando-mania is back at Chavez Ravine!!!!!!), Greg Jones and Brian Shackelford; catcher Danny Ardoin (pronounced ar-DWAH, for those who have never been to Louisiana’s Cajun country); infielders Angel Chavez and John Lindsay and outfielder John-Ford Griffin. Of that group, only Lindsay was in the organization last year, slamming a total of 30 home runs in 300 ABs for Jacksonville and Las Vegas while driving in 121 runs.

Kuroda update: He’s leaving on a jet plane

A non-stop flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles, to be exact, and due to land at LAX at 9:30 tomorrow morning, from what I understand. That could mean one of two things. One, that he changed his mind yet again and decided to go ahead with his recruiting trip to Seattle and Los Angeles. Or, more likely, that he has decided to sign with the Dodgers. Sounds like this is really close to happening. I KNOW the Dodgers have offered three years, and I THINK they have offered $30 million. Assuming the conclusion I am jumping to is a sound one, this is a HUGE pickup for the boys, a great addition to the rotation. This and the addition of Andruw Jones probably makes them the favorite in what will be arguably the deepest, most competitive division in baseball in 2008. Stay tuned, boys and girls, because tomorrow could be a big news day.