Nick Punto, Billy Burns in the house for first A’s-Dodgers Cactus League meeting of 2014.

Nick Punto

Nick Punto’s contract with the A’s nearly doubled his $1.5 million salary from 2013. (Getty Images)


The first Cactus League meeting between the Dodgers and Oakland A’s contains a few interesting subplots (none of which have anything do with the 1988 World Series, but if you’re feeling nostalgic it’s there for you).

Nick Punto is starting at shortstop for the A’s. The 36-year-old utilityman batted .255/.328/.327 last year in 335 plate appearances (116 games) for the Dodgers.

Punto turned that into a one-year deal with an option for a second year that guarantees $3 million. He is the A’s ninth-highest paid player. The Dodgers’ ninth-highest paid players this year are Dan Haren and Brian Wilson ($10 million each).

Dee Gordon gets the start at second base and leads off for the Dodgers. Billy Burns is leading off for the A’s. Gordon and Burns rank 1-2 among all spring training players in stolen bases. Gordon is 8-for-8 and Burns, who finished last season with the Washington Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, is 7-for-9.

Gordon is batting .208/.296/.375 in 12 spring games.

Zack Greinke threw a bullpen session this morning with Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis two days after a two-inning simulated game.

Here are both lineups for the game at Camelback Ranch:
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Daily Distractions: Reviewing the Dodgers’ unsurprising off-season.

Brian Wilson

Reliever Brian Wilson re-signing with the Dodgers might constitute the biggest surprise of the off-season. (Getty Images)

Accountability matters here, so I decided to take a look back at a little list I made in October.

In it, I ranked the Dodgers’ 12 in-house free agents in order of their likelihood of re-signing. Here’s how I ranked them:

12. Edinson Volquez
11. Mark Ellis
10. Chris Capuano
9. Jerry Hairston Jr.
8. Skip Schumaker
7. Brian Wilson
6. Michael Young
5. Carlos Marmol
4. Nick Punto
3. Ricky Nolasco
2. Juan Uribe
1. J.P. Howell

In light of Marmol’s contract with Marlins — he agreed to terms yesterday — that leaves only Capuano still unsigned among the 12 players.

Starting at the top of the list, it came as little surprise that the Dodgers re-signed Howell and Uribe. Nolasco was offered four years and $49 million from the Minnesota Twins. Since not many 31-year-old pitchers with a career history of below-average ERAs in the National League get four-year contracts from American League teams, Nolasco did the logical thing and signed the contract.

The Dodgers reached out to Punto about re-signing, but the Oakland A’s wanted him more. Billy Beane made a quick push and signed Punto for one year and a guaranteed $3.25 million. The Dodgers really didn’t have a chance to be interested in Marmol; they were more interested in Wilson and Chris Perez for set-up roles, and both pitchers accepted the Dodgers’ offers in December.

Young retired. So did Hairston. Schumaker and Ellis were swept away by better offers from a pair of NL Central teams, the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.

Volquez got a one-year, $5 million contract from Pittsburgh, where he’ll compete for the fifth starter’s job on a good Pirates team. Not unexpected.

Come to think of it, as busy as it was, the off-season mostly stayed true to expectations. Clayton Kershaw re-signed. Don Mattingly got a new, longer contract. The Yankees threw a ton of money at Masahiro Tanaka.

In Uribe and Howell, the Dodgers re-signed the two players who were the best fits to re-sign. The Dodgers wanted a durable veteran to fill the number-four starter’s job on a short-term contract; Dan Haren is a durable veteran who was content with a short-term contract. Haren’s history shows less risk than that of Nolasco, who got the longer-term deal he wanted from the Twins.

Ned Colletti reached outside the organization for bullpen help from Jamey Wright and Chris Perez. Neither could be considered a real surprise: Perez replaces Ronald Belisario, who was non-tendered in his final arbitration year, and Wright becomes the long reliever the Dodgers never really had in 2013.

Even though the final bill hasn’t come in yet, the cost of building the Dodgers’ bullpen is already staggering. Together, Dodger relievers will earn roughly $26 million in actual salary in 2014. That doesn’t include deferred signing bonus payments, salaries for players with 0-3 years’ service time (such as Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez), or the actual closer — Kenley Jansen, who has yet to re-sign. That’s an eye-popping number.

 

The biggest individual surprise might be Wilson, who drew interest from the Yankees and Tigers — two teams that expect to contend in 2014 — to be their closer. Instead, he chose to be baseball’s highest-paid eighth-inning man in Los Angeles for $10 million and a player option for 2015.

For a team that reached the NLCS in 2013, no major changes were needed. We got none.

My spring training preview runs tomorrow.

Some bullet points for a Grenadian Independence Day:

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Daily Distractions: Mark Ellis: ‘I have no hard feelings toward the Dodgers.’

Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis signed a one-year, $5.25 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Dec. 16. (Associated Press photo)

The Dodgers are still looking for a veteran infielder who can play second base with 13 days to go until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Michael Young said his preferred destination is Los Angeles — if he doesn’t retire — and Young seems to be the Dodgers’ top choice for the job as well. Here’s my story from last night.

If Young chooses to retire, the Dodgers have a pair of veteran options in Chone Figgins and Brendan Harris who will attend spring training as non-roster invitees. Of course, the Dodgers wouldn’t be in this position if Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker hadn’t spurned the Dodgers in free agency to sign with Oakland and Cincinnati, respectively.

You might as well throw Mark Ellis into that group as well. He seemed destined to land a starting gig somewhere after a productive 2013 campaign at the plate and in the field. When the Dodgers signed 28-year-old Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero to a four-year contract, Ellis’ best opportunity to start no longer resided in Los Angeles.

Yet after the Dodgers declined his $5.75 million option, Ellis signed a one-year contract with St. Louis for $5.25 million. The Cardinals, like the Dodgers, already have a second baseman of the future (Kolten Wong) who has a chance to be the Opening Day starter in 2014. It’s far from certain that Ellis will be able to extend his streak of nine straight seasons with at least 100 starts at second base in St. Louis.

Ellis was willing to accept that uncertainty with the Cardinals. Why didn’t it work out with the Dodgers?

“Things happened,” he said Sunday in Anaheim. “It wasn’t a hard decision for me. I’ll leave it at that.”

Ellis said the Dodgers offered him a one-year contract. So did the Cardinals, but “it wasn’t hard to choose one offer from the other” and “role had nothing to do with anything,” he said. In other words, the decision was based on money.

Even if the Dodgers’ monetary offer could have been considered an insult, Ellis would never say so. He’s not that type of person. For what it’s worth: Ellis didn’t consider the offer an insult.

“I have no hard feelings toward the Dodgers,” he said.

Some bullet points for an International Holocaust Remembrance 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: How relationships made a difference for Skip Schumaker, Dan Haren.

Brian Wilson

Skip Schumaker, left, and Nick Punto have fun after tearing the jersey off Brian Wilson after the Dodgers beat the Giants in September. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff photographer)

Skip Schumaker had never been a free agent before this year, and he wasn’t a free agent for long. Less than a month after the World Series ended, Schumaker signed a two-year contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

“I didn’t really want to wait because I felt so good about Cincinnati,” he said on a conference call Tuesday.

The idea of waiting in traffic on the way to Dodger Stadium didn’t appeal to Schumaker, either. His carpool buddy, Nick Punto, had just signed with the Oakland A’s on Nov. 13. That mattered.

“I didn’t know who was coming back,” Schumaker said. “I didn’t know what coaches were coming back, which players. My friends were signing elsewhere – especially Nick Punto – becoming free agents.”

Dan Haren had been a free agent before. This time, the pitcher had help from Zack Greinke, his teammate with the Angels late in the 2012 season.

“I kind of talked to (Greinke) throughout the whole process,” said Haren, who finalized a one-year deal with the Dodgers on Monday. “He said the team is amazing. … It’s nice coming into a situation where there’s a familiar guy.”

This principle is nothing new, but it was interesting to see it work both for and against the Dodgers in the span of two days.

Schumaker’s contract with the Cincinnati Reds was widely reported last week and became official Tuesday. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reported that Schumaker will make $2 million in 2014, $2.5 million in 2015 and there is a $2.5 million club option for 2016 with a $500,000 buyout.

Apparently the Dodgers weren’t that interested in bringing him back.

“They had so many things going on initially,” Schumaker said, “I felt I was maybe on the back burner.”

Some bullet points for a Thanksgiving/Hanukkah weekend. These will be the last until Monday:
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Report: Skip Schumaker signs two-year contract with Cincinnati Reds.

Skip SchumakerSkip Schumaker and the Cincinnati Reds have a two-year contract in place, according to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal. The contract is pending a physical.

Schumaker batted .263/.332/.332 in 125 games last season for the Dodgers, primarily as a backup second baseman and outfielder. He also made two appearances as a mop-up reliever, pitching one inning in each game while not allowing a run.

The free-agent period is beginning slowly, but some of the earliest player movement has depleted the Dodgers’ bench.

Veteran utilityman Nick Punto signed a one-year contract last Wednesday with the A’s, with an option for 2015. In Schumaker, the Dodgers lose Punto’s carpool mate and another versatile veteran who was well-respected in the clubhouse.

Neither defection is terribly surprising. General manager Ned Colletti said in his season-ending press conference that he wanted to bring back a younger roster in 2014. Schumaker, who turns 34 in February, and Punto, 36, don’t fit that mold.

Daily Distractions: Nick Punto signs with the Oakland A’s.

Nick Punto

Nick Punto’s new contract will nearly double his $1.5 million salary from 2013. (Getty Images)

Nick Punto did enough in his brief time as a Dodger to remind fans why he was included in the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. And that was enough.

Punto signed with the Oakland A’s on Wednesday. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, the contract pays $2.75 million in 2014 with a $2.75 million vesting option for 2015 based on time spent on the active roster, or a $250,000 buyout.

Primarily a pinch-hitter, defensive subsitute, and shortstop during Hanley Ramirez‘s multiple absences in 2013, Punto batted .255/.328/.327 as a Dodger. He appeared in six playoff games, going 2-for-6 with a double, and led the Dodgers in headfirst slides and shredded jerseys after walk-off victories. He was the team’s nominee for the annual Heart and Hustle Award.

Defensively, Punto was the Dodgers’ best shortstop, and an adequate fill-in at third base. The A’s have recently turned versatile platooners like Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss and others into productive contributors as dictated by matchups, and are likely to do the same with Punto.

https://twitter.com/JeffPassan/status/400702602578374656

Some bullet points for a World Kindness Day:
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Daily Distractions: It’s open season on Dodger outfielder trade speculation.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp originally sprained his ankle on July 21. He had surgery in October but is expected to be healthy in time for Opening Day of 2014. (Associated Press photo)

If you had Nov. 8 in the pool for “which day does the internet explode with ideas for resolving the Dodgers’ four-outfielder situation with a trade” … you probably have a strange, uncontrollable gambling habit.

Also, congratulations.

In the absence of something tangible to report — which will be true for most of the 151 days between the end of the World Series and the beginning of the 2014 regular season — there is the tangible difficulty of going into a season with four outfielders who deserve to start, and no DH rule to keep the fourth one happy. That’s where the Dodgers stand now.

That wasn’t a problem in the second half of 2013. All four battled injuries of some magnitude. Matt Kemp played one game between July 5 and Sept. 16, then missed all of the playoffs with an ankle that required surgery. Carl Crawford missed 30 games at midseason. Andre Ethier missed most of September. Yasiel Puig injured his knee and hip in September, but at least avoided missing significant time.

Kemp will enter spring training in 2014 coming off shoulder and ankle procedures, so there’s some reason for the Dodgers to be cautious. He turns 30 next September. Crawford and Ethier will both be 32.

But just what if all four maintain their health next season? Don Mattingly was asked this question deep into his awkward end-of-year press conference.

“We didn’t play with four the whole year,” he said. “It would be hard talking about something that’s a possibility for next year. You’re always looking to improve. You never know what happens before the year’s over. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Number of games, how you mix and match … it’s just something you have to talk about with guys.”

That the problem is purely hypothetical hardly dismisses the fact that it would be a problem for a manager to satisfy four outfielders owed more than $61 million in combined salaries next season. Mattingly’s answer didn’t exactly downplay the potential for a problem.

To the hot stove action: It’s believed that Puig is untouchable. To trade Kemp, Ethier or Crawford, “general manager Ned Colletti will need to be creative, but it’s not as if he’s embarking upon mission impossible,” writes Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com. There’s also the opinion that maybe Puig shouldn’t be untouchable.

Writes Jesse Spector of SportingNews.com: “It’s valid for the Dodgers to shop Kemp and see what the market might hold, but he’s not a player you trade unless you’re absolutely blown away. When that doesn’t happen, because of the effect of a lost 2013 season on Kemp’s trade value, then it’s time to call around about Ethier or Crawford, and eventually make the best deal possible – most likely, that would mean dealing Ethier.”

“To do it,” writes Craig Calcaterra of NBCsports.com, “the Dodgers are going to clearly have to eat a lot of salary. But money is the least of the Dodgers’ concern.”

Buster Olney and Jim Bowden of ESPN.com weighed in on the possibility of Tampa Bay trading pitcher David Price, with the Dodgers a possible suitor. Both seem to be anticipating a winter trade rather than one next summer, and Bowden believes it would cost the Dodgers multiple prospects rather than an outfielder, which the Rays probably can’t afford. Unless that outfielder is Puig.

Some bullet points for a three-day weekend:
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Ranking the Dodgers’ twelve in-house free agents.

J.P.  Howell

Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell became a free agent on Thursday. (Getty Images)

As noted here this morning, the Dodgers have 12 in-house free agents after they declined the options on second baseman Mark Ellis and pitcher Chris Capuano.

Not all 12 will be back, but here’s an educated guess at the likelihood of each player returning to the Dodgers, ranked in order of least likely to most:
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Daily Distractions: Let the free agency period begin.

Red Sox fans

Boston Red Sox fans celebrate the start of free agency Wednesday night. (Associated Press photo)

The World Series is over, making ringbearers of the Red Sox and free agents of dozens of players around baseball.

The Dodgers will have at least 10: Ricky Nolasco, Michael Young, Juan Uribe, Carlos Marmol, Jerry Hairston, Edinson Volquez, Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson. Per MLB rules, the Dodgers have exclusive negotiating rights with each player up until midnight Eastern Time Monday, after which all are free to sign with any club.

Sometime within the next five days, general manager Ned Colletti and staff must ultimately decide whether or not to extend these players a qualifying offer, a guaranteed contract for 2014 equal to the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players. This year, that’s $14.1 million.

The potential risk every team faces in extending a qualifying offer is that the player will accept the offer and receive more money than he would by testing the open market. The potential reward is twofold: 1, you might re-sign the player at a discount compared to his open-market value; 2, if the player doesn’t accept the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, your team receives a first-round draft pick in 2014 from the team that does sign the player.

Of the Dodgers’ 10 free agents, Nolasco is the only viable candidate to receive a qualifying offer. He made $11.5 million last year. What’s another $2.6 million? That’s the, um, $2.6 million question that’s been floating around the front offices at Chavez Ravine this month. The answer should be an easy one: Since Nolasco didn’t begin the year with the Dodgers, they won’t receive any draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.

More on him, and the other free agents, later today.

We should also note here that Chris Capuano and Mark Ellis have options for 2014 in their contracts. Capuano’s is a mutual option for $8 million with a $1 million buyout; Ellis’ is a $5.75 million club option with a $1 million buyout. If the team declines the option on both players, that’s a dirty dozen Dodgers destined to hit the free-agent market.

Some bullet points for an Allantide morning:
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