Daily Distractions: The Dodgers are starting the 2014 regular season before everyone else — again.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw might have three starts under his belt by the time some teams have played only five games. (Associated Press photo)


ESPN has selected the Dodgers’ first regular-season game in the United States for its first Sunday Night Baseball game of the season.

That sounds simple, but it contains some interesting implications.

The Dodgers were originally going to begin the non-Australia portion of their regular season on Monday, March 31, like every other team. That game — in San Diego — will now be played the night before, on March 30 at 8 p.m. There are no other MLB games scheduled for that day.

Dan Shulman, John Kruk, Curt Schilling and Buster Olney will broadcast the game.

But who will pitch?

If Don Mattingly hasn’t abandoned his start-Clayton-Kershaw-as-often-as-possible mantra since signing his fat new contract, expect Clayton Kershaw to start the game. The Dodgers have nine days between their second game in Australia (scheduled for 7 p.m. Pacific Time on March 22) and their first game in San Diego.

And because the game will be played a day earlier, Kershaw will have four full days of rest before the Dodgers’ home opener on April 4 against the San Francisco Giants. So Dodger fans might be the big winners in all of this.

The losers? Anyone who has a gripe about ESPN playing favorites with certain terms. The Dodgers will be, by far, the most exposed baseball team in March:

Some bullet points for a Panamanian Martyrs’ Day:
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Daily Distractions: Revisiting Greg Maddux, on the eve of his Hall of Fame announcement.

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux pitched 23 games, regular season and playoffs combined, during stints with the Dodgers in 2006 and 2008. (Getty Images)

For your consideration, in the category of important dates in Dodgers history: June 6 and July 31, 2006.

On June 6, the Dodgers drafted Clayton Kershaw out of high school.

On July 31, they traded for Greg Maddux.

Not a bad couple months.

Maddux won’t be a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Fame selection, but he’ll probably come close. The Hall of Fame class of 2014 will be announced Wednesday and, barring a stunning comeback by Mike Piazza (currently polling at 67.7 percent), Maddux will be the only former Dodger going into Cooperstown this year.

I talked to Dodgers president Stan Kasten about Maddux and his legacy. Kasten was president of the Atlanta Braves during Maddux’s prime, which included a run of four straight Cy Young Awards, three straight ERA titles, and no less than 15 wins every season from 1988 to 2004. Take a moment to soak all that in.

Here are a couple tidbits about Maddux’s career that won’t make my story for Thursday’s editions:

“We weren’t sure we were going to get him,” Kasten said of pursuing Maddux in free agency in 1992. “The Yankees did outbid us substantially, but he decided he didn’t really want to play in that environment. He had a really good friend on our team, Damon Berryhill, who used to catch to him in Chicago. Damon told him how great the organization and environment was in Atlanta.”

Only one thing gave Kasten any pause about signing the pitcher to a five-year, $28 million deal.

“He wasn’t the cleanest medically,” Kasten said, “but we had good doctors, doctors with opinions we trusted. They signed off on him.”

Maddux only went on the disabled list once in 23 seasons. Maybe he played through more pain than anyone realized.

Some bullet points for a St. Distaff’s Day:

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Daily Distractions: Devising the Dodgers’ resolutions for 2014.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. (Associated Press photo)

While others lose weight and read more books and call their parents, we tried to go beyond the obvious here — i.e., “Win a World Series” — to come up with a checklist of some New Year’s resolutions more specific to the Dodgers.

In no particular order, here we go:

1. Don’t let Clayton Kershaw reach free agency. Jan. 17 is when teams and players exchange salary arbitration figures, and Kershaw is in his final year of arbitration eligibility. There’s an element of curiosity here: How much could the game’s best pitcher make in arbitration? The Dodgers, and their fans, would rather not know. The other important date to circle here is sometime in late October, the date when eligible free agents hit the market once the World Series ends. If Kershaw doesn’t have a contract by then, what will it take for the Dodgers to re-sign him? Would a championship and the largest contract in baseball history — the Dodgers might be able to offer both — be enough? The longer the left-hander goes without a multiyear extension, the more tempting it is to speculate why he’s determined to test the market. Until he re-signs, that speculation will linger.

2. Stay healthy. OK, this one applies to every team, and the Dodgers have enviable depth in their outfield, starting rotation, and bullpen to withstand the inevitable DL trips of 2014. That said, it’s not a stretch to say that the October injuries to Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and (to an extent) Andre Ethier are what separated the Dodgers from the 2013 World Series. Dodger players spent more days on the disabled list in 2013 than all but six MLB teams. Luck always plays a significant role in injury statistics, but Stan Conte will try to create some better luck in 2014. He’ll absorb the duties of head athletic trainer Sue Falsone, who left to pursue other opportunities.

3. Re-sign Ramirez. Ramirez is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, too. Thanks to a lot of bad injury luck, he played only 86 games in 2013, but he was the Dodgers’ most productive offensive player when healthy. A full season of a 191 wRC+ is probably unsustainable. Anything close to that will result in a lucrative payday.

4. Manage the farm intelligently. A concern for any team in any year, but consider recent history. Relatively speaking, there wasn’t much to manage in the Dodgers’ system until mid-2012. Because of that, they aren’t in great position to package any prospects in an off-season trade — say, for David Price — or sign a free agent who would cost a first-round draft pick. Now, the Dodgers at least have some intriguing prospects at Double-A (Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling, Zach Lee), High-A (Corey Seager) and Low-A (Chris Anderson, Julio Urias). If they aren’t traded, they need to produce. If they are traded, the return needs to be huge.

5. Make a decision on Don Mattingly. At the end of the season, this is what I wrote: “If [Mattingly's] contract isn’t extended by the time the 2014 season begins, questions about his standing within the organization remain legitimate. The challenge of commanding a clubhouse as a ‘lame duck’ manager will linger. If Mattingly does get his extension between now and spring training, then we’re all left to wonder what took so long.” These questions haven’t been answered yet.

Some bullet points for a Berchtold’s Day:
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Daily Distractions: Circling back to David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw, Don Mattingly.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren is the Dodgers’ biggest off-season signing so far. (Associated Press photo)

Six weeks ago, when the postseason became the off-season, the clamor among Dodgers fans was for David Price, Masahiro Tanaka and a Clayton Kershaw contract extension.

The headline-makers so far: Dan Haren, Ronald Belisario (for being non-tendered) and Lorenzo Bundy.

OK, so the off-season has progressed relatively slowly for the Dodgers. They have a chance to change the narrative at the Winter Meetings beginning Monday. In the meantime, we suddenly have a chance to circle back to the Price, Tanaka and Kershaw storylines.

Price has a number of suitors, with the Seattle Mariners emerging as the most aggressive, according to multiple reports. A bidding war waged in prospects simply wouldn’t favor the Dodgers over the Mariners.

As for Tanaka, he could be liberated from his contract in Japan soon. MLB and NPB will reportedly have a conference call today with a formal offer for a new Posting System on the table. That’s the closest thing to a resolution to the Posting System stalemate in weeks. Whether or not the new system favors or works against the Dodgers lies in the yet-to-be reported details.

Given many chances, Kershaw has said a very little about his future with the Dodgers over the last few weeks. He is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.

Kershaw told Yahoo! Sports’ Graham Bensinger that “I’m there next year no matter what, I’m going to be in L.A. … then after that I really don’t know what’s going to happen.” Bensinger asked Kershaw if he had a gut feeling about what might happen. “I don’t,” Kershaw said. “We’ll just see.”

Those sentiments are in line with his comments from three weeks ago, when Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award. At the time, Kershaw said he and the Dodgers haven’t talked about a contract extension since the season ended. If that’s changed, the talks haven’t nudged Kershaw toward a “gut feeling” either way. More likely, they haven’t talked. So this story might not be wrapped up anytime soon.

Some bullet points for a Day of the Ninja:
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Dodgers non-tender pitcher Ronald Belisario, making him a free agent.

Ronald BelisarioThe Dodgers signed Ronald Belisario as a free agent on Jan. 16, 2009. On Monday, they declined to tender him a contract before the 9 p.m. deadline for arbitration-eligible players, making him a free agent again.

The intervening four-plus years were hardly quiet.
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Daily Distractions: Tender deadline looms at 9 p.m. tonight.

Ronald Belisario

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (left) and pitcher Ronald Belisario (right) are both arbitration eligible. (Associated Press photo)

By 9 p.m. tonight, A.J. Ellis, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen will have been tendered a contract by the Dodgers. That much we know. The deadline for teams to tender a contract to their arbitration-eligible players is fast approaching, and the Dodgers won’t leave Kershaw, Ellis and Jansen behind.

We don’t know how much the Dodgers will offer each player, how much they’ll ultimately sign for, or if Ronald Belisario — the final remaining member of the Dodgers’ arbitration-eligible class — will get an offer at all. MLBtraderumors.com made some predictions here.

So far, the Dodgers have only dipped into the free-agent market for a starting pitcher, Dan Haren. But they had enough interest in adding a right-handed reliever that they were among the first teams to offer a contract to Joe Smith. Smith ultimately signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract with the Angels.

Did the Dodgers hope to replace Belisario with Smith, a sinker/slider pitcher who rarely exceeds 90 mph on the radar gun? Or do they still see a need for a power arm to complement Brandon League, Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez, and any other right-handers who might be in the mix for 2014?

Belisario’s lousy September (7.94 ERA, .842 opponents’ OPS) obscured what was previously a solid year. Statistically speaking, the Dodgers had one of the National League’s better bullpens in 2013. Bringing back everyone, or attempting to, isn’t out of the question.

Three other arbitration-eligible Dodgers already agreed to contracts for 2014. Scott Elbert signed for $575,000 for 2014 with up to another $100,000 in possible incentives on the table. Drew Butera and Mike Baxter both signed for $700,000.

That’s three down, three (or four) to go.

Some bullet points for a Laotian National Day:
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Dodgers’ National League MVP votes split after 2013 success.

A 92-win season and a division title usually begets an MVP candidate. Or four.

For the Dodgers — a team of several superstars and, this year, several superstars with injuries — the National League MVP votes were more fractured than Hanley Ramirez‘s rib.

Clayton Kershaw, who won the National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday finished seventh in the MVP race with 146 points. Ramirez followed in a distant eighth, with 58 points. Yasiel Puig (15th) and Adrian Gonzalez (19th) were the only other Dodgers listed on ballots.

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen won the award, handily outdistancing runner-up Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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Daily Distractions: What the absence of a new Posting System means for Masahiro Tanaka, Dodgers.

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka will not be able to come to the United States until a new posting system is agreed to by MLB and NPB. (Associated Press photo)


The Associated Press reported this morning that Major League Baseball is withdrawing its proposal for a new bidding system with Japan.

What does that hold for Masahiro Tanaka, Japan’s best pitcher? Without agreement on a new bidding system, Japanese players would not be able to sign with MLB until they had nine years of service time and could become free agents. Tanaka has seven years of service time in NPB, Japan’s top league. You do the math.

Imagine for a moment that the best available free-agent pitcher is now off the market. Every other pitcher at the top of the free agent crop — Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, etc. — now jumps up a spot on teams’ wish lists. And those teams still have all their money to spend.

That figures to help a pitcher like David Price, who is not a free agent, but whom many expect the Tampa Bay Rays to dangle as trade bait. Perhaps Price’s price just rose too.

The New York Post reported today that a complete elimination of the posting system is now possible, which might ground Tanaka in Japan for another two years. It’s not clear what will happen to the proposal MLB just withdrew, which the Post described as “a moderate tweak of the old system: The team with the highest bid on a posted player would still win exclusive negotiating rights with that player, but the amount of the bid would be an average of the top two bids. … Furthermore, a team would be fined if it failed to sign the player after securing the negotiating rights.”

FanGraphs.com speculated that if this system were ratified, “the player won’t gain any leverage in order to get a better contract for himself, or play in a different city. But! If the posting fees actually do go down, the player should get a bigger slice of the pie.” The team with the highest bid still won.

Now? Even is if no agreement is reached this winter, the Dodgers’ odds of signing Tanaka might decrease. Their team payroll is expected to exceed baseball’s luxury-tax threshhold again in 2014, which means the Dodgers will be taxed 30 percent on every dollar spent on player salaries above $189 million. The tax rises to 40 percent if the Dodgers exceed the threshhold in 2015, and 50 percent in 2016. Team president Stan Kasten has said repeatedly that he doesn’t intend to pay these luxury taxes indefinitely, and that 50 percent tax-rate could be where the Dodgers decide to draw the line.

According to Cots, the Dodgers are already on the hook for $122 million for SEVEN players in 2016, and that doesn’t include a possible extension for Clayton Kershaw.

So assuming Tanaka’s health and effectiveness hold steady for two more years, would the Dodgers be restricted in their willingness to spend on Tanaka in the winter of 2015-16? Under the old system — and, presumably, under Monday’s proposal — posting fees don’t count toward a team’s luxury tax. But at least one small-market club reported by the Post, the Pittsburgh Pirates, would like to see that changed.

There are some variables in this equation that definitely work against the Dodgers.

Some bullet points for a Day of the Colombian Woman:
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Clayton Kershaw wins the National League Cy Young Award. How they voted.

Clayton Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award today. Please click here to read my full story on the inevitable — but not unanimous — honor.

Not included in that story are how the final votes added up, and where they came from. Here’s the final points tally, courtesy of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America:
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Daily Distractions: IBWAA announces its end-of-season awards finalists.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Hyun-Jin Ryu (center) was honored at an awards gala in Korea yesterday. Lots of awards these days. (Photo by Jun Park/Asia Society)


The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America was founded here, in the awards capital of the world, so naturally the IBWAA gives out awards at the end of the season. This year there are “finalists” too, just like the BBWAA has “finalists” who really represent the top vote-getters in each category.

The IBWAA has more categories, and more Dodgers, than the BBWAA awards. Clayton Kershaw (National League Cy Young), Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu (NL rookie of the year), Don Mattingly (NL manager of the year), and Kenley Jansen (best NL reliever) are all in the running for the virtual awards.

Jose Fernandez and Adam Wainwright are the other Cy Young finalists, same as the BBWAA awards. Fernandez is the other rookie of the year finalist. Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are the other finalists for best reliever. Fredi Gonzalez and Clint Hurdle are other manager of the year finalists, (same as the BBWAA.

Winners will be announced as follows:

Relief Pitcher, Friday, November 8, 2013, 11:00 a.m. PST.
Rookie, Monday, November 11, 2013, 11:00 a.m. PST.
Manager, Tuesday, November 12, 2013, 11:00 a.m. PST.
Cy Young, Wednesday, November 13, 2013, 11:00 a.m. PST.
MVP, Thursday, November 14, 2013, 11:00 a.m. PST.
Some bullet points for a Thursday afternoon:

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