Daily Distractions: How the Dodgers might apply principles of chemistry and platooning to their $58.3 million outfield.

Carl Crawford Matt Kemp

Can Carl Crawford (left) and Matt Kemp (right) be happy under a four-man outfield platoon? The Dodgers might be counting on it. (Associated Press photo)

A couple opinions floating around today about what to do with the Dodgers’ four-outfielder conundrum: 1, Trading Andre Ethier is the most likely route; 2, Keeping everyone is the safest bet.

Maybe there’s another way we can look at the Dodgers stockpiling outfielders. It’s not unlike the strategy used a year ago by Oakland A’s, who entered last season with five viable starting outfielders (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Seth Smith, Josh Reddick and Chris Young).

Since it was the A’s, this personnel strategy was dissected under the market-efficiency microscope, then praised when Young underperformed, Cespedes and Crisp went down with injuries in April, and Reddick took his turn on the DL in late May. None of them were owed the kind of money Ethier, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig will earn in 2014 — $58.3 million, excluding any contract bonuses — but the A’s still won 96 games, four more than the Dodgers.

Don’t dismiss the integral role that club chemistry played in keeping the A’s outfielders happy with the platoon arrangement. Probably not coincidentally, Oakland recently signed former Dodgers infielder Nick Punto — a chemistry guy, a platoon guy.

With the Dodgers, the market-efficiency prism need not apply. That doesn’t mean that stockpiling outfielders (and starting pitchers, for that matter), hedging against the inevitable injuries, and counting on chemistry to abide in times of health, isn’t a wise personnel strategy worth the time of a team with a $215 million-plus budget.

The A’s walked into their situation more intentionally than the Dodgers, who probably didn’t count on the injuries that added up to 99 outfield starts for players other than their top four in 2013. Heck, general manager Ned Colletti might have traded Ethier, Kemp or Crawford by now if cost and health concerns were not enough to inhibit a rival GM from making a knock-me-down offer.

That hasn’t happened yet. It probably won’t. Whenever a reporter asks Colletti an outfield-related question that begins with “if everyone’s healthy…” his response usually begins with some variation of “do we know that everyone’s going to be healthy?”

So maybe the Dodgers backed into this desirable situation. That doesn’t make it undesirable.

Some bullet points for an Evacuation 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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Dodgers facing plenty of questions for National League Championship Series roster spots.

Dee Gordon

Dee Gordon’s contribution to the Dodgers’ first-round series against the Atlanta Braves was an unsuccessful stolen base attempt in the ninth inning of Game 2. (Sarah Reingewirtz/Staff photographer)

Don’t expect any National League Championship Series roster announcements from the Dodgers this afternoon.

The team has scheduled a simulated game for 5 p.m. this afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Since it’s expected to rain the rest of the afternoon, there is a chance they will work out indoors. There are more television screens inside, so that might not be a bad thing.

That’s because 5 p.m. is also the scheduled start time for Game 5 of the Division Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. If the Cardinals win, Game 1 of the NLCS is Friday in St. Louis. If the Pirates win, Game 1 is Friday in Los Angeles.

And until a winner is determined, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly isn’t likely to commit to the 25 men he wants for the next round.
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Dodgers release Mark Lowe, bringing camp roster to 38.

Mark LoweThe Dodgers opened camp with three experienced right-handed relievers vying to make the team as non-roster invitees: Kevin Gregg, Peter Moylan and Mark Lowe.

They couldn’t all make the team. None still might, though the Dodgers have eventually given a roster spot to a non-roster camp invitee the last 11 years.

It won’t be Lowe, who was granted his release Sunday morning. Continue reading

Chicago White Sox 2, Dodgers 2: Postgame thoughts.

There are no ties in baseball. Except when it’s spring training.

Neither the Dodgers (0-1-1) or White Sox (1-0-1) were content to let the exhibition season end without needing three numbers to describe their record. Either that or Robin Ventura, the home manager, elected not to play after exactly three hours of baseball at Camelback Ranch on Sunday.

Dodgers reliever Peter Moylan surrendered a 2-run home run to White Sox slugger Adam Dunn in his first Cactus League inning. The Dodgers scored when Tim Federowicz doubled and Hanley Ramirez drove him home with a single in the third, and again on Luis Cruz‘s solo home run to left field in the sixth.

Here’s what we learned:

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Experience counts in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but how much is needed?

Kevin Gregg

Kevin Gregg is trying to make the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee to spring training. (AP)

A year ago, the Dodgers’ bullpen lacked experience. Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen, the primary ninth and eighth-inning pitchers, had little more than two years’ service time between them. Josh Lindblom and Scott Elbert had only become full-time major league pitchers the year before.

So the Dodgers kept Todd Coffey and Mike MacDougal on their Opening Day roster despite brutal springs and signed Jamey Wright, a 37-year-old non-roster invitee. (Wright worked out, MacDougal didn’t, and Coffey had season-ending elbow surgery in July.)

This year, it seems like the need for veteran help is not as great. Jansen and Guerra are a year older and the closer, Brandon League, made his major-league debut in 2004. So did Matt GuerrierJ.P. Howell debuted in 2005. Ronald Belisario turned 30 in December. They may be joined by graybeards Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and/or Aaron Harang.

So what’s the need for a non-roster veteran like 34-year-old Kevin Gregg or Peter Moylan, who turns 28 in April?

“We’re still fairly young out there,” manager Don Mattingly said, “so it’s nice to have leadership out there in the ‘pen, guys who have been out there for a season and played on some championship-type teams. I’m not opposed to having experience out there for those guys. Brandon’s fairly young still at the closer role. Obviously the guys setting him up … are younger. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of experience out there.”

Still, it seems like experience alone won’t get Gregg and Moylan onto the Opening Day roster — both will need a strong spring training.

Some odds and ends from Dodgers spring training.

Some odds and ends from Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the final day before the Dodgers’ position players are expected to report to spring training.
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Spring training preview: Relief pitchers.

Brandon LeagueToday begins our daily countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training on Tuesday with a position-by-position breakdown of the Dodgers’ roster. We begin with the bullpen.

I didn’t include Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano or Ted Lilly on this list, even though one or more of them could wind up pitching out of the ‘pen. Even without them, this is a solid unit on paper with ample depth. The closer situation is fairly clear, but the Dodgers enter the season with more viable options for the ninth inning than they’ve had in recent seasons.

There are a few injury concerns facing this unit, but none are severe. With one exception, the Dodgers’ bullpen should start the season healthy, capable of becoming one of the best in the National League.

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Dodgers inviting 17 NRIs to spring training.

Here is the updated list of non-roster invitees to spring training, which is up to 17 as of now:

RHP Juan Abreu
LHP Kelvin De La Cruz
RHP Greg Infante
RHP Peter Moylan
RHP Matt Palmer

C Eliezer Alfonzo
C Wilkin Castillo
C Ramon Castro
C Jesus Flores

INF Alfredo Amezaga
INF Brian Barden
INF Nick Evans
INF Omar Luna
INF Ozzie Martinez
INF Dallas McPherson

OF Tony Gwynn Jr.
OF Jerome (Jeremy) Moore