Rundown of non-roster invitees

The Dodgers invited A.J. Ellis and Gabriel Gutierrez, two catchers from within their minor-league system, to big-league spring training today. While that has little significance for the team or for either player — teams routinely bring about eight catchers to camp just to catch all the pitchers’ side sessions — it does bring the list of non-roster invitees to a staggering 22 — and the overall list of players coming to camp to 60. The list includes a lot of former big leaguers, guys like pitchers Mike Koplove, Tom Martin, Mike Myers, Chan Ho Park and Tanyon Sturtze and infielder Ramon Martinez, and some guys you probably never heard of, like pitchers Rick Asadoorian, Fernando Desgue and Alfredo Simon. It’s going to be a crowded clubhouse, but one of these guys ALWAYS ends up having a great spring and making the opening-day roster. I’m guessing it will be either Koplove, Martin or Myers in the bullpen and possibly Martinez. He’ll compete with Tony Abreu and Chin-lung Hu for what probably will be two utility infield spots.

The unforgettable D.J. Houlton era comes to a close

The Dodgers sold the right-hander to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League, bringing down the curtain on a Dodgers career in which Houlton went 6-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 53 appearances, including 19 starts. All of those came in two seasons, but those two seasons were spread over three years because he never received a callup from Triple-A Las Vegas in 2006. Houlton came to the Dodgers as a Rule 5 selection from Houston and thus spent all of 2005 in the majors, going 6-9 with a 5.16 ERA at a point when he clearly wasn’t ready for prime time. He actually pitched pretty well at times that year, but he always seemed to get roughed up in the first inning. I remember one game at Florida on Aug. 19, 2005 (OK, I don’t really remember that much about it, I looked it up in my old scorebook) where he actually pitched six shutout innings, allowing only one hit, before giving up three runs in the seventh in what became a 3-0 Dodgers loss. After that game, D.J. told us he had tried to visualize his pregame warmup in the bullpen as the first inning, so that when he actually took the mound in the first inning, it would be more like the second inning in his mind. It might sound strange and simplistic, but it worked. He retired the first 13 batters he faced. He was also a really good guy who got thrust into a situation he wasn’t ready for, and that might have permanently affected his career. But this will be a good move for him. Of course, the other question that all of this raises is, will U.S. major-league teams ever take on corporate sponsors like the Hawks have done? Will it be the Los Angeles Bank of America Dodgers, the San Diego SeaWorld Padres, the Arizona Diamondbacks presented by Gila River Casinos? Oh wait, that last one already does exist.

Ramon Martinez coming back

The Dodgers signed infielder Ramon Martinez to a minor-league contract today and invited him to big-league spring training, where he will be given a shot to compete with youngsters Tony Abreu and Chin-lung Hu for what probably will be two utility infield spots on the opening-day roster. Martinez, 35, spent the past two seasons with the Dodgers, hitting a combined .243 with two homers and 51 RBI. Both of those homers came in 2006, the first as part of a five-RBI performance at Atlanta on Memorial Day, the second a walkoff shot to end a 16-inning game with Cincinnati on Aug. 29. He slumped to a .194 average in 2007 while appearing in just 67 games. Martinez received $850,000 last year. He is a 10-year major-league veteran who has spent his entire career as a reserve player.

Lieberthal retires

Just before playing soccer for the first time in his life earlier today in a charity celebrity game hosted by Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm, former Dodgers backup catcher Mike Lieberthal, a two-time All-Star while with Philadephia and a graduate of Westlake High School, said he has decided to retire. Lieberthal made the decision in October, when it became clear the Dodgers wouldn’t pick up his $1.5 million contract option for this season.
“If they would have picked up my option, I probably would have played one more year,” Lieberthal said. “But I didn’t want to go anywhere else. … I’m totally in a very happy place now.”
Lieberthal said he would like to stay in the game in some capacity, possibly in broadcasting, but that he has no desire to coach because it would require him to start again in the low minors and work his way up.
Lieberthal, who turned 36 last week, spent 14 seasons in the majors, mostly as the starting catcher for the Phillies. He spent just one season with the Dodgers, signing last winter to be Russell Martin’s backup, and wound up playing in just 38 games while hitting .234 with one RBI. This was one of the truly good guys in the game, and he’ll be missed — although he did say he plans to attend a handful of Dodgers games this season.
The soccer event came off well — or at least it did early (I bolted at halftime). The list of celebrities wasn’t staggering, but there was a handful of fairly significant names, including Anthony Lapaglia starting in goal for Team Nomar. Milo Ventamiglia from Heroes played (sadly, there was no sign of Hayden Panettiere). There was also Elisabeth Shue, who according to has been in a whole bunch of different things since the last thing I saw her in, which was Leaving Las Vegas way back in 1995. She has soccer ties, of course, being the sister of Andrew Shue. Oh, and for soap fans, there was Eric Braeden, the guy who plays the legendary Victor Newman on Y&R, who got around the pitch pretty good for a guy about to turn 67 (according to imdb, anyway).
As for the Dodgers contingent, besides Nomar and Lieberthal, the players included GM Ned Colletti and assistant GM Kim Ng, both of whom played for Team Nomar. Ned told us before the game that he had already pulled something in his leg during pregame stretching. He still got around pretty well, though.

Jose Vizcaino joins Dodgers front office

The 18-year major-league infielder, a product of the Dodgers’ academy in his native Dominican Republic, will serve as a special assistant to general manager Ned Colletti. Vizcaino, 39, will work on special projects in baseball operations and also will serve as an on-field instructor during spring training. He also will instruct at the club’s facility in the Dominican.
“I’m very happy to be back with the organization that I grew up with,” Vizcaino said in an official news release issued by the club. “I hope to help the team win in any way that I can, and I’m looking forward to the 2008 season.
Vizcaino played for San Francisco in 1997, when Colletti was the Giants’ assistant GM.
“Jose brings in a wealth of experience and knowledge with him that will be a great asset to the Dodgers,” Colletti said in the release. “Everyone in baseball has the utmost respect for Jose because of his character and his dedication to the game, and we’re excited that he is returning to the Dodger organization.”
Vizcaino also spent time with the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. He had clutch World Series hits for both the Yankees, winning a marathon Game 1 against the Mets in 2000 with a walkoff single up the third-base line, and the Astros, deliverying a pinch-hit, two-run single to tie the score with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 2 against the Chicago White Sox, although Houston went on to lose that game.

By Tony Jackson

Breaking news: Don Mattingly will NOT be the Dodgers’ hitting coach

Not in 2008, anyway. Due to an undisclosed family matter he says requires his undivided attention, the heir apparent to possibly take over for Joe Torre as Dodgers manager in 2011 won’t even be on the staff this year. He’ll move into a role as special assignment scout, which will allow him to stay home in Evansville, Ind., most of the time, although he IS expected to be in spring training. Mike Easler, who had been slated to be the hitting coach for Triple-A Las Vegas for the second year in a row, will now be the major-league hitting coach. This sounds like a temporary thing, with Mattingly possibly moving into the big-league hitting coach’s job in 2009, but I haven’t talked to anyone in the organization so far except for Josh Rawitch, who is letting everyone know about the development. More info as the day goes along, hopefully.

By Tony Jackson

Repko signs, avoids arbitration

He got a one-year deal for $487,500, a raise of just short of $150,000 from last year’s $338,000 despite missing the entire season with a torn left hamstring. He’ll compete for the fifth OF spot with Delwyn Young. Joe Beimel and Scott Proctor, the club’s only other arbitration-eligible players, are slated to swap numbers with the club today. I’ll try to run those down this afternoon.

Brazoban signs

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
The Dodgers shaved their list of arbitration-eligible players to three on Tuesday by agreeing to terms with reliever Yhency Brazoban on a one-year contract. Financial details were not disclosed, but the deal is believed to carry a base salary of $540,000 with up to $120,000 in additional incentives based on appearances.
The hard-throwing Brazoban, who briefly served as the Dodgers’ closer in 2005 while Eric Gagne was injured, essentially missed the past two seasons with injuries of his own, making a grand total of nine appearances during that stretch. He underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in April 2006 and returned last May, but soon suffered a shoulder injury that required arthroscopic surgery and knocked him out for the rest of the year.
“Our hope is that he can return to what he was before he got hurt the first time, back to where he was in 2005 when he showed he had the ability to pitch late in games and occasionally close,” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “Whether or not he can do it, we’ll have to wait and see. At this point in the offseason, he is pain-free and continues to throw, and we expect him to be ready to go for spring training.”
If healthy, Brazoban likely will fill a sixth- or seventh-inning role.
Brazoban, 27, was arbitration-eligible for the first time after receiving $345,000 last season. He will receive an additional $25,000 for reaching 30 appearances, $35,000 each for reaching 40 and 50 appearances and another $25,000 for reaching 60.
The signing of Brazoban leaves fellow relievers Joe Beimel and Scott Proctor and outfielder Jason Repko as the Dodgers’ only remaining arbitration cases. Arbitration-eligible players will exchange salary proposals with their respective clubs later this week, but most of those players will avoid going to a hearing by settling on a compromise figure somewhere in between. For those players who do go to hearings, which will be held in early February, the arbitrator must choose either the club’s proposed figure or that of the player, with no leeway to choose a compromise figure in between.