Daily Distractions: Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas has a message for the protesters in Venezuela.

Miguel Rojas

Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He is closely monitoring the political protests in his native Venezuela. (Associated Press)

Miguel Rojas is watching the news reports from his native Venezuela closely. His wife, Mariana, lives about five minutes from the capital of Caracas. At least five have died in the course of the political protests that began Feb. 12 and turned violent not long thereafter. Here are some videos of the gunfire that erupted last night in Caracas.

“That stuff is pretty scary,” Rojas said Thursday, “because all my family is there.”

Rojas has seen the videos. He said his wife is fine, and she’s planning to fly out tomorrow morning.

“She told me in the afternoon is when things start getting bad,” Rojas said. “At night is when the motorcycles go out because they (the citizens) can’t recognize them.”

As much as anything, Rojas is frustrated by his own feelings of helplessness. At a time when independent news outlets have been muffled by the Venezuelan government, Twitter is soaring in popularity as a medium for protest. The government is trying to block images posted to Twitter from within the country.

Rojas isn’t on Twitter, but he has a message for his countrymen.

“I want to get my word to every Venezuelan guy in the street to keep doing that,” he said. “Make us feel like we can be proud of them, that everything’s going to end in a good way. I send my thanks to them because I can’t do anything right now.”

Some bullet points for a World Social Justice day:
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Daily Distractions: Why starting the season in Australia might give Don Mattingly headaches.

Don Mattingly Alan Trammell

The Dodgers’ early-season schedule has the potential to frustrate manager Don Mattingly, who isn’t above taking out his frustration on Arizona Diamondbacks coaches. (Getty Images)

So the Dodgers and Diamondbacks play two games in Australia a week before any other team begins its regular season. Does anything about this arrangement make Don Mattingly‘s job easier?

Maybe a little. If he wants to, the Dodgers manager can have reigning National League Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw start a game in Sydney, then the U.S. regular-season opener seven days later, then the Dodgers’ home opener five days after that. Again: if he wants to.

Things start to get tricky, um, everywhere else. Start with the bullpen.

“If you think about it,” Mattingly said Saturday at the Dodgers’ FanFest, “you’re going into two games in a row (in Australia), you’ve got to kind of save your relievers as you get into that. Then if you don’t use them, now it’s going to be a week or 10 days before they’re throwing in a (regular-season) game.”

As of right now, the Dodgers have exactly one game on their schedule between March 17-21, a time when many managers have the luxury of split-squad games to evaluate players pushing for the final spots on their 25-man roster. That one game is an exhibition against the Australian national team in Sydney on March 20. Two days later, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will celebrate Opening Day.

After the Dodgers play the D-Backs on the afternoon of March 23, they get four days off to fly back to Los Angeles and re-adjust to Pacific Time. All that time off down the road has a ripple effect on players’ routines. Pitchers are hit the hardest.

“These guys are having to throw bullpens before we even get to camp,” Mattingly said. “That seems like a rush to me.”

Don’t expect the three-game Freeway Series against the Angels, on March 27-29, to have the usual look of a “final audition” for roster spots — at least as relief pitchers are concerned. Mattingly said he’ll have to manage his bullpen with an eye toward the March 30 game in San Diego that counts in the standings.

The Dodgers’ position players can’t exactly treat the Freeway Series like an exhibition, either. In a usual year, Mattingly might use those games to rest his projected starting lineup. The quirky schedule makes this year different.

“Starting the season and then not playing for another eight days always bothers me,” Mattingly said, “because once guys turn that clock on, it’s hard to get them to play an exhibition game. That’s where you start to get bad habits. You start the season then it’s like these games don’t count. Guys, they know that. They know that game, the stats don’t count. I worry about bad habits during that period of time.”

The Freeway Series games are scheduled for March 27 and 28 at Dodger Stadium and March 29 at Angel Stadium.

Some bullet points for a Four Chaplains Day:
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Daily Distractions: Zach Lee, not the next Drew Henson, has no regrets about choosing baseball over football.

Zach Lee

The Dodgers and scouting director Logan White (right) lured Zach Lee (left) from LSU with a $5.25 million signing bonus in 2010. (Associated Press photo)

MLB.com had an interesting article today about some lesser known baseball-football connections, from Frank Thomas to Jake Locker to Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson.

Maybe the most interesting line in that piece was about Drew Henson. You might recall that Henson was a star quarterback at Michigan, succeeding Tom Brady in 1998, then tried his hand at baseball and even got in a few games with the Yankees after climbing the minor-league ladder. Then he retired, tried his hand at football again, and was relegated to being a backup most of his career. Writes Jim Callis:

I still think Drew Henson could have been a star in baseball had that been his focus — one evaluator I highly respect compared Henson’s skills to those of Mike Schmidt — but doubling as a quarterback ultimately meant he didn’t realize his potential in any sport.

Maybe the Dodgers should count their lucky stars that Zach Lee has no intention of becoming the next Drew Henson.

Lee, the 2013 organizational pitcher of the year, was once a highly recruited quarterback out of McKinney (Texas) High School. He chose to attend Louisiana State University, and did for a time, and was anointed as a savior of the LSU football program in at least one headline. (Actually, read those whole first two paragraphs again in italics: The heavens part and there, riding on the clouds comes a gift from the gods, or perhaps planet Krypton. Yes, he is the one we’ve been waiting for. Zach Lee. If only this picture came replete with angelic purple wings and a shiny golden halo to signify his immaculate arrival. Well, we hope so anyways.)

As recently as last April, the New Orleans media opined about what might have been with Lee. Does Lee ever wonder “what if?”

“I don’t have any regrets about what I did, the decision I made,” Lee said Wednesday. “It’s really kind of more now going back and reflecting on memories, reflecting on the great times I had with some of my teammates. Not necessarily the on-field stuff, but more the experiences you get out of it.”

Lee said he didn’t feel any “twinges” while watching the bowl games, including Monday’s BCS championship game, when Florida State beat Auburn.

“I’m kind of an analytical person,” he said. “So I analyze football as well as having a background in it. I was a little disappointed the SEC couldn’t pull it off, but it was a great game.”

Some bullet points for a Vodoun Day:
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Daily Distractions: Don Mattingly, Dodgers are reportedly close on a contract extension, and the timing makes sense.

Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly and Ned Colletti might have a more pleasant news conference in the near future than their last one. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff photographer)


If the Dodgers and Don Mattingly reach agreement on a contract extension this week, the timing actually makes sense.

According to multiple reports Monday morning, the two sides are finally close to a contract that would keep Mattingly on the bench beyond this year. (His contract is set to expire at the season’s end.) It just so happens that Mattingly is in town for the Dodgers’ annual prospect camp. When he isn’t in town, Mattingly is more likely to be found on a farm in Indiana, or a college basketball game.

He mentioned all the way back in November that the Dodgers had begun talks on an extension, and that there was “no rush” to complete the deal. Two months later, with Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti talking to the prospects, this seems like a logical time for the two to wrap up their own discussions.

As we mentioned last week, Mattingly’s status was going to be a burning question unless an extension was completed before spring training. That it’s taken this long to complete could simply be a reflection of Mattingly’s preference as he went about his usual off-season routine. It could also be a reflection of the complicated nature of manager’s contracts, which are not as uniform as player contracts.

Either way, this appears to be one storyline we can put to bed soon.

Lots of bullet points today:

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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: With Hall of Fame ballots due tonight, will Don Mattingly remain eligible?

Don Mattingly

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly batted .307 in 14 major-league seasons and won nine Gold Glove awards at first base. (Getty Images)

Baseball Hall of Fame ballots are due tonight. As we’ve previously noted, former Dodgers Hideo Nomo, Eric Gagne, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Greg Maddux and Paul Lo Duca are all on the ballot for the first time. Manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Mark McGwire and former catcher Mike Piazza are still hanging on.

Many ballots have already been released publicly and the folks at BaseballThinkFactory.org (among others) are keeping tabs on all of them. Remember, a player needs to appear on 75 percent of ballots to be inducted to the Hall, and 5 percent of ballots to remain eligible (for up to 15 years).

While Nomo, Gagne, Lo Duca and Gonzalez have no chance of induction in this or any year, the same can’t be said for the others. Mattingly debuted on the ballot in 2001 and appeared on 28.2 percent of the ballots in his first year. He’s had an interesting journey since, garnering votes from 9.9 percent of the electorate in 2007 then rebounding to 17.8 percent in 2012.

But a 2014 Hall class featuring several statistically qualified candidates (including Maddux, Frank Thomas and holdover Craig Biggio) could count Mattingly among its victims. BaseballThinkFactory.org has Mattingly listed on 4.6 percent of the 87 full ballots to be revealed so far. McGwire (11.5) and Kent (12.6) are teetering toward extinction, while Piazza (73.6) is teetering toward induction.

Maddux has been listed on every ballot so far. No player has been a unanimous selection in the Hall’s history.

Mattingly — and McGwire, for that matter — doesn’t expect to be elected. If he falls off the ballot, it might amount to nothing more than a brief spring-training conversation topic.

Some bullet points for a New Year’s Eve:
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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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Daily Distractions: Nomo, Gagne, Lo Duca, Gonzalez, Kent, Maddux join Mattingly, McGwire on HOF ballot.

Mark McGwire

Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire is listed on the Hall of Fame ballot for the seventh time. (Associated Press photo)

The 2014 Hall of Fame ballot was announced today, and the window for eligibility has struck the Dodgers square in the 2000s. Hideo Nomo, Eric Gagne, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Greg Maddux and Paul Lo Duca are all on the ballot for the first time.

They join Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, hitting coach Mark McGwire, former catcher Mike Piazza and several other holdovers on a crowded field. Only 10 players can be listed on a ballot. Voting results will be announced at 11 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2014, on MLB Network and the web sites of the Hall of Fame and the BBWAA.

Nomo was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1995 and no-hit the Colorado Rockies the following season at Coors Field. Gagne saved 161 games from 1999 to 2006 after converting to a reliever, including a record 84 in a row. Kent hit 75 home runs in a Dodgers uniform from 2005-08, finishing his career with 377 — 351 as a second baseman, an all-time record. Maddux made 19 starts as a Dodger in the twilight of a career that included 355 wins, eighth on baseball’s all-time list.

Lo Duca played seven of his 11 major-league seasons with the Dodgers, while Gonzalez spent one season (2007) in Los Angeles and was benched at midseason to make room for Matt Kemp.

Gagne and Lo Duca were both identified in the Mitchell Report as having been connected to performance-enhancing drug use. Their career numbers alone are enough to keep them out of the Hall, but the PED issue has proven impossible to overcome for even some of the best players on the ballot — McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and possibly Piazza. They’ll need to be named on at least 5 percent of all ballots to remain eligible.

McGwire (listed on 16.9 percent of ballots last year) and Mattingly (13.2) are closer to 5 percent than the 75 percent needed for induction. Players can remain on the ballot for 15 years after their retirement, and this will be Mattingly’s 14th appearance.

MLB.com has Hall of Fame profiles on several of the top Hall candidates, including Mattingly, McGwire, Piazza and Kent.

Some bullet points for a Mongolian Independence Day:
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Daily Distractions: Mike Matheny gets a three-year contract extension: What that means for Don Mattingly.

Don Mattingly

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (right) signed a three-year contract extension Wednesday. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly (left) would like one of his own. (Associated Press photo)

It wasn’t the biggest transaction Wednesday, but certainly Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was paying close attention when the Cardinals signed manager Mike Matheny to a 3-year contract extension through the 2017 season.

Mattingly’s contract with the Dodgers is set to expire after next season. The two sides began talking nearly a month ago, since shortly after a season-ending press conference in which Mattingly actively lobbied for a contract extension.

Here is Matheny’s managerial record, via baseball-reference.com. Here is Mattingly’s.

Those numbers are similar. But there’s more to the comparison than just wins and losses and playoff appearances, and the actual negotiations won’t be so crude as sizing up the numbers and picking a number of dollars and years.

Still, negotiations between a manager and a team don’t quite work the same way as negotiations between a player and a team. There’s no “waiting for the market to settle,” as is currently the case in the heat of free agency. Matheny’s negotiations with the Cardinals reportedly lasted a week.

One major difference is that teams can’t quickly access the salary information of a manager on a whim. This isn’t a problem when negotiating with players, whose contract information is made available through the MLB Players’ Association. Sometimes a manager’s agent will make his client’s contract information available to the media; other times, the manager’s representative will have to dig up that information on his own. Still other managers don’t have an agent at all and negotiate for themselves (though this is not the case with Mattingly).

Today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this about Matheny:

Financial terms of his deal were not announced. Matheny made $750,000 before bonuses this past season. His new deal moves him up with managers of similar success and experience.

Two people with experience negotiating contracts between managers and teams told me that three-year contracts, like the one Matheny just signed, are common. One-year contracts aren’t popular for the reasons Mattingly cited. Two-year contracts aren’t very popular without an option for a third year, since a manger is merely signing up to be a lame duck the following season. So the three-year deal is a popular one.

There are some exceptions. Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa managed year-to-year in the final years of their contracts with the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively, because they were comfortable dictating their futures as their careers wound down.

Because there is no Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners and managers, teams are free to creatively throw bonuses and perks into contracts. Houses and cars aren’t uncommon. Sometimes the bonuses significantly elevate the actual dollar value of a contract. But these details are rarely made public and can be difficult for rival negotiators to unearth.

So will Matheny’s new deal have an affect on Mattingly’s negotiations? Maybe. But it’s not a simple cause/effect proposition that allows for educated predictions.

The length and dollar value of one contract doesn’t quite “set the market” for a similar manager like it would for a player or pitcher. It’s each man(ager) for himself.

Some bullet points for a World Hello Day:

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Don Mattingly confirms he and Dodgers are discussing new contract, finishes second in Manager of the Year vote.

 

Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly finished second in National League Manager of the Year voting. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff photographer)

Don Mattingly took advantage of his 15 minutes of fame Tuesday to confirm that he and the Dodgers are discussing a new contract.

“We’re in talks right now and things are going good,” Mattingly told the MLB Network. He added that there is no rush to complete a deal.

Talks began shortly after Mattingly said in an awkward season-ending press conference that he didn’t want to return in 2014 on a one-year contract. His current contract expires after next season.

The occasion of the interview was somewhat bittersweet. Mattingly was on television just before the National League Manager of the Year announcement. That award went to Pittsburgh Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle, who collected 25 of the 30 first-place votes.

Mattingly finished second, with two first-place votes, 17 second-place votes, and seven third-place votes. Hurdle was listed second on five ballots. Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez finished third and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny fourth.
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