New Dodgers catcher Ramon Hernandez was a happy man as he took in his new surroundings Sunday morning.
“This is one of the best teams in my whole career,” he said. “Maybe the A’s when I was young.”
One of the most frequent questions I get asked by friends, readers and fans is, “who are the best players to interview?” I always rattle off a list, and that list always includes A.J. Ellis. A few others, too, but Buster Olney had an A.J. Ellis anecdote on his blog today that’s worth relaying:
Over the last few weeks, I had conversations with three catchers who are known to have good working relationships with umpires — Alex Avila of the Tigers, Tampa Bay’s Jose Molina, and the Dodgers’ A.J. Ellis. Avila is known to have a good eye at the plate, and he mentioned to me that umpires will ask him from time to time whether they missed pitches — when Avila is catching, or batting. And Avila’s policy is to always, always provide 100 percent honesty. So if he takes a walk on a borderline pitch and the plate umpire asks him about it later, Avila — who has an understated, genial demeanor — will tell him exactly what he thinks, even if he believes the ball four call should’ve been a strike.
Molina and Ellis agreed completely, mentioning that they have similar conversations. The bottom line, the catchers explained, is that the umpires want to be the best at what they do and they will ask, from time to time, for immediate feedback. But with Ellis, Avila and Molina, those conversations take place quietly, in the course of a day’s work, without anybody else knowing about it, and with body language and tone that convey complete respect.
There are other Ellis anecdotes out there (real ones, not Chuck Norris ones). Olney’s illustrates what those of us who cover him day-to-day have come to understand: A.J. Ellis is a rare breed.
With no game last night to reflect upon, these bullet points are about to get delightfully random:
Forget about how many players would decline invitations. Forget about generational eligibility — if you were born in California, you’re eligible (which is fine, since I had a better chance of making Team Wisconsin anyways). What would that team look like? Could it contend?
The answer is yes.
C: John Jaso, Mariners/Rod Barajas, Diamondbacks
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
3B: Ty Wigginton, Cardinals
LF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
CF: Coco Crisp, A’s
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
DH: Prince Fielder, Tigers
UT: Skip Schumaker, Dodgers
SP: Jered Weaver, Angels
SP: CC Sabathia, Yankees
SP: James Shields, Royals
SP: Cole Hamels, Phillies
SP: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
RP: Sergio Romo, Giants
RP: Brandon League, Dodgers
RP: Addison Reed, White Sox
RP: Dale Thayer, Padres
RP: J.P. Howell, Dodgers
RP: Bryan Shaw, Diamondbacks
RP: Kris Medlen, Braves
Apologies to C.J. Wilson, Mark Trumbo, Michael Young, Will Venable, Brandon McCarthy, Kyle Lohse, Mike Moustakas and Carlos Quentin. Perhaps you can dig into your family tree and find another state to play for.
On to some bullet points:
In one sense, Clayton Kershaw seemed like the same pitcher who has won back-to-back National League ERA titles on Saturday: He was his own harshest critic.
Kershaw allowed four hits, including an Armando Rios double, and two earned runs in his two-inning Cactus League debut. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, it set the tone in a 9-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Ellis faded down the stretch in 2012, batting .218 in September and October. He underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee after the season.
Based on the laughter from 20 members of the Korean-language media, and the often light-hearted quotes he gave through an interpreter, Hyun-Jin Ryu seemed comfortable on the first day of spring training. To wit: The Korean left-hander, who came to the United States for the first last November before signing with the Dodgers in December, is already craving an In-N-Out burger.
“As soon as camp is over I’ll go back,” he said.
A.J. Ellis is back for his second year as the Dodgers’ starter, and hopes to be fully recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in October. Matt Treanor is gone after one year as the backup. The Dodgers will go in a different direction by giving rookie Tim Federowicz the first crack at the backup job – a small but notably different direction from recent years, when veterans like Treanor, Dioner Navarro, Brad Ausmus, Mike Lieberthal and Sandy Alomar held the role.
The four non-roster invitees in this group are an interesting collection of characters, some with checkered pasts. Can you say “Real World: Camelback Ranch”?
Get ready for a higher cable bill.
That was one of many takeaways from yesterday’s news that the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable are on the verge of striking a local-cable rights pact that could be in the neighborhood of $8 billion.
Under the deal, colleague Tom Hoffarth reports, “TWC would be the anchor of this new Dodger channel and provide plenty of cross promotion with its own TWC SportsNet and Deportes channels created specifically for the Lakers. But as TWC found out, there was plenty of pushback from distributors when it launched its two-channel package in October leading up to the start of the Lakers season – mostly because of the high-end $3.95 price tag per subscriber per month. DirecTV, for example, didn’t get on board with it until the middle of November. Dish Network has yet to sign on.”
Even if you don’t care for the Lakers, you probably know someone who does and had to sweat through the TWC SportsNet launch last fall. If that was you, are you ready for the same song-and-dance with the Dodgers next year?
Would you rather see the $8 billion price tag come down? Or are you happy that your owners might turn an approximate $6 billion profit less than one year after buying the team, knowing that might mean more flexibility to add payroll and upgrade Dodger Stadium?
Onto the links:
Happy salary figure exchange day. May the odds be ever in your favor.
The Dodgers’ two salary arbitration-eligible players, A.J. Ellis and Ronald Belisario, will present their contract proposals to the team today. Both might end up signing a new contract today. They might end up negotiating with the Dodgers for a couple weeks. Or, they might let an arbitrator decide how much they should earn next year — their proposed salary or the team’s. That rarely happens.
In fact, the Dodgers haven’t had an arbitration case since Joe Beimel on Feb. 9, 2007.
Last year, only Clayton Kershaw got close to going to arbitration before signing a two-year deal on Feb. 7.
Ellis made $490,000 in base salary last year and Belisario made $480,000, according to Cots. Roll out a starting catcher and a set-up man with comparable stats, at comparable points in their careers, with comparable injury histories (or the lack thereof, in the case of these guys) and you have the basis for a negotiating point. Sometimes that’s easy to get to, sometimes it isn’t, but it’s fair to expect these guys will be getting raises very soon.
For other arbitration resolutions around the league, MLBtraderumors.com has set up an updating “arbitration tracker” link here.
Or, just do what everyone else does and stay glued to Twitter. Today’s links …
The Washington Nationals granted Flores free agency in November and the Dodgers signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training on Tuesday.
Flores figures to compete with Tim Federowicz for the backup job. Considering Federowicz’s lack of experience (10 major-league games), it could make for an interesting competition.
Flores’ career batting numbers aren’t much to look at, though he did hit eight home runs and drive in 59 in only 90 games in 2008. The Venezuela native batted .301 in 2009, when surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right shoulder limited his season to 29 games. Flores hasn’t been the same since.
He didn’t play at all in 2010 and worried whether his career was over. He came back to play 30 games in 2011 and 83 last season, all in a backup role for the Nationals. His slash line since the surgery: .212/.249/.325. Even Flores’ defense seems to have suffered; since the surgery he’s thrown out only 13 of 67 attempted base stealers – 19.4 percent.
Flores is currently playing for Navegantes del Magallanes of the Venezuelan Winter League.
Some afternoon links: