As part of Friday night’s fifth annual blogger’s night at Dodger Stadium, the group of assembled bloggers were addressed by Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and team president and CEO Stan Kasten. After sharing some basic information about the current state of the team on the very night that Dodger sluggers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier were in the line-up together again for the first time in over a month, both Colletti and Kasten fielded questions from the 20 or so bloggers in attendance. Although the group included those from some of the better known sites to those lesser known (or in ThinkBlueLA’s case, relatively new on the blogging scene), the kid gloves came off fast and the questions to both Dodger executives were very pointed, including several by your’s truly (go figure).
Colletti was the first to address the group and gave an overview of the needs of the Dodgers as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline draws near. As expected, Colletti would not name names or indicate how close the Dodgers were to making any deals or with whom they are talking, but he reiterated what has already been well publicized regarding the Dodgers immediate need for corner infielders and a starting pitcher. Colletti pointed out that with the implementation of the second Wild Card spot, teams are a lot more reluctant to concede to being sellers than in past seasons at this point in time, something that has significantly slowed the trading activity down and created a thin market to work with; however, he quickly added that he expects things to heat up within the next two to three weeks.
It was at this point that I asked Colletti point blank what their plans were with Juan Uribe. Although Colletti would not say one way or the other what was going to happen with Uribe, he made it very clear that Uribe has not met their expectations and that coming up with a solution at third base is a top priority with the July 31 trade deadline rapidly approaching. Even though Colletti would not come right out an say that Uribe’s tenure with the Dodgers might be nearing an end, he certainly gave this impression. He did say, however, that Uribe’s playing time would probably be reduced.
Colletti fielded several other questions, including James Loney’s future with the organization. Here again, Ned’s answers were somewhat vague, although he indicated that with the return of Kemp and Ethier to the outfield, Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jerry Hairston Jr. would most likely continue to platoon in left field, with Juan Rivera probably seeing more playing time at first base; thus suggesting that Loney’s time with the Dodgers may also be coming to an end.
When asked about Elian Herrera being sent back down to Triple-A instead of perhaps Shawn Tolleson, Colletti said that now that Herrera has spent some time in the big leagues with the Dodgers, he now knows how high the bar is set and knows what he needs to work on to improve his overall game. He added that Herrera needs more At Bats and isn’t getting them in his current utility role with the Dodgers. Colletti was quick to point out that Herrera has done an outstanding job filling in for the large number of injured Dodger regulars.
I asked Colletti if consideration was being given to moving the struggling Chad Billingsley out of the rotation and into the bullpen, to which he said that such a move would not happen unless they acquired another starting pitcher. This answer again left the impression that with what has been publicized about the Dodgers seeking another starter (i.e. Dempster, Garza, etc.), perhaps more consideration is being given to this than Colletti wished to talk about. He did indicate that Rubby De La Rosa would most likely see some action this season but not necessarily in a starting role, at least not initially. Colletti also said that Ted Lilly will also most likely return to action before season’s end, although the general feeling in the room did not seem quite as confident as Colletti was about this.
Colletti was asked about the recent (and very expensive) Yasiel Puig signing to which Colletti was very firm in saying that Puig played professional baseball in Cuba and was regarded as the country’s top player. He added that Puig is extremely athletic and is clearly a five-tool player. I asked Colletti if there was a time frame with regards to Puig, to which he said that there is not, adding that residency issues were still being taken care of with Puig. Colletti said that Puig would continue his conditioning and training in Arizona for the time being and that they will base their decisions on how he performs there. Here again, the consensus in the room was that Puig will probably see MLB action sooner rather than later, possibly even as a September call-up this season.
I also asked Colletti if they had given any consideration to bringing up Josh Fields to help with the third base situation. Colletti said that they have and that this is still a possibility depending on how things pan out during the next few weeks.
When it was Kasten’s turn to address the bloggers, he did so in a very upbeat and positive manner. I have now heard Kasten speak to several different audiences and he was visibly more relaxed and casual with this group. He also showed a sense of humor that I had not seen to this point with other groups and he is truly a fun guy to talk with. At one point he was seriously humorous about the media (including bloggers) occasionally quoting him when he was saying things in jest, yet they always seemed to leave out the “…he said jokingly” part when quoting him, thus frequently subjecting him to criticism. A minute or so later, Kasten made reference that merchandise at Dodger Stadium was now less expensive than at local retail stores, to which I quickly interjected “…he said jokingly,” drawing a laugh from Kasten and others in the room.
Although Kasten’s comments were pretty much as expected, he certainly gave the impression that the organization is going to be very aggressive in bringing about changes both with the team and with Dodger Stadium itself. Kasten said that he learned a great deal while working for Ted Turner and the Atlanta Braves organization and that he applied much of what he learned when he went to work for the Washington Nationals organization, and we have all seen the successes that they are now enjoying. Kasten said that one of the greatest things that he learned while working for Ted Turner and something that he has employed everywhere he has gone is to “Never stand in the way of smart people trying to help you.” Although Kasten’s quote is a little different than the words that I have long used to basically describe the same thing (“Always surround yourself with good people”), the message is one that I have long felt is a key to success in every aspect of life. Hearing Kasten say this about our beloved Dodgers certainly brings with it a great deal of confidence and a positive outlook for the organization.
I asked Kasten if there has been any progress on securing a new (and potentially lucrative) TV rights deal, to which he said that they are happy with their current agreement with Fox/Prime Ticket, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t look at other opportunities when the current contract expires. Kasten pointed out that the current contract with Fox includes the 2013 season and that a new TV deal would not go into effect until the 2014 season. When asked about keeping ticket prices down, Kasten said that they haven’t really approached this issue yet but added that he would like to see some consolidation of current ticket price options, noting that there are currently way too many options available, which is quite confusing and intimidating.
After Colletti and Kasten finished their Q&A session with the group, we shared time with the entire Dodgers PR staff including director Jorge Martin, assistant directors Joe Jareck and Yvonne Carrasco, coordinator Jon Chapper, and assistant coordinator Garrett Thomas, all of whom have been extremely helpful to the success of ThinkBlueLA’s blog site. We were also joined by team historian Mark Langill and former Dodger great Ron Cey, who answered questions and shared some great stories with the group (topics for future posts here on ThinkBlueLA).
If I had to summarize my overall impressions of Ned Colletti’s and Stan Kasten’s “State of the Dodgers” messages, it would be with the words of the aforementioned Mark Langill – guarded optimism; at least for the short-term (2012) future of the Dodger organization. That said, I can honestly say that I left Dodger Stadium with a very positive and confident feeling for the long-term future of the organization – something that I have not felt in decades.