Thank you Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times, excerpts from the article on the Dodgers (McCourt Ownership) hiring a 71-year old Russian psychic from Boston to HELP OBSERVE AND EVALUATE THE DODGERS AND OPPOSING TEAMS. WOW.
Frank and Jamie McCourt quietly hired a Russian emigre who calls himself a scientist and healer to ‘think blue’ and channel his thoughts toward the team’s success as he watched them play on TV.
The most curious figure to emerge in the Dodgers’ drama answers the door with a kindly smile and a hearty handshake. He motions toward the living room, where his wife has put out a spread of chocolate and fruit, coffee and tea.
Vladimir Shpunt, 71, lived most of his life in Russia. He has three degrees in physics and a letter of reference from a Nobel Prize winner.
He knows next to nothing about baseball.
Yet the Dodgers hired him to, well, think blue.
Frank and Jamie McCourt paid him to help the team win by sending positive energy over great distances.
In the five years he worked for the Dodgers, he attended just one game. Instead, he watched them on television in his home more than 3,000 miles from Dodger Stadium, channeling his thoughts toward the team’s success.
Shpunt’s work was one of the best-kept secrets of the McCourt era. The couple kept it hidden even from the team’s top executives. But from e-mails and interviews, a picture emerges of how the emigre physicist tried to use his long-distance energy to give the Dodgers an edge.
Shpunt could not transform a bad team into a good one, Cohen said, but his energy could increase the chance of winning by 10% to 15%.
But Bert Fields, an attorney for Jamie, said the Dodgers paid Shpunt a stipend, plus a bonus of “certainly six figures and even higher” depending on whether the Dodgers won the National League West title and how far the team advanced in the playoffs.
On Sept. 26, 2008 — one day after the Dodgers clinched the National League West championship and their third playoff berth in five years of McCourt ownership — Frank was jubilant.
“Congratulations and thanks to you and vlad,” Frank e-mailed Cohen. “Also, pls pass along a special ‘thank you’ to vlad for all of his hard work…. This organization and this community will benefit a long time from our continued success. Thanks again.”
At one point, Shpunt also tried to heal a player. In 2005, Jamie referred outfielder Jayson Werth to him for treatment of a wrist injury, after Werth had told her of his interest in alternative medicine, according to Cohen and representatives for Frank and Jamie.
More recently, Werth appeared startled when asked whether he had worked with a healer named Vladimir while with the Dodgers.
“Where’d you hear about that?” Werth said. He declined to talk about it.
On Oct. 2, 2004, Steve Finley capped the first season of McCourt ownership by hitting a walk-off grand slam, clinching the Dodgers’ first playoff spot in eight years.
“The miracle finish … was the result of V energy,” Cohen wrote in an e-mail to Jamie. “Frank was privileged to actually feel the energy.”
Cohen also wrote that Shpunt had “diagnosed the disconnects” among Manager Jim Tracy, General Manager Paul DePodesta and the team’s pitchers and catchers.
“Your general manager destroyed last year’s team,” the e-mail read, “and put together a group of players that could not be a team and could not win.”
Cohen further conveyed Shpunt’s critical assessments of outfielders Milton Bradley and J.D. Drew and said Shpunt had identified Tracy as the “final reason for failure.”
Grossman said Shpunt had been “introduced to the Dodger organization as someone who had the ability to observe the team, observe opposing teams and provide evaluations of performance of areas and strength and weakness.”
McCourt fired DePodesta after the season, three weeks after publicly backing him when Tracy and the Dodgers parted ways. Grossman said Shpunt’s evaluations did not persuade McCourt to fire DePodesta or to cut ties with Tracy or any player.
The relationship between Shpunt and the Dodgers lasted through the ’08 season, after which Jamie asked him for help with matters separate from the team, Cohen said.
For the full story, please read Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times.
Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times delivers the introductory story of the 2010 Dodgers today, focusing on the core group of youngsters (Billingsley, Broxton, Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Loney). Also, this is how Hernandez projects the roster:
SS Rafael Furcal
C Russell Martin
LF Manny Ramirez
RF Andre Ethier
CF Matt Kemp
1B James Loney
2B Ronnie Belliard
3B Casey Blake
RH Chad Billingsley
LH Clayton Kershaw
RH Hiroki Kuroda
RH Vicente Padilla
LH Eric Stults
RH Jonathan Broxton
LH George Sherrill
LH Hong-Chih Kuo
RH Ronald Belisario
RH Ramon Troncoso
RH Cory Wade
RH Jeff Weaver
C Brad Ausmus
OF Reed Johnson
2B/3B/OF Jamey Carroll
SS Nick Green
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
Wow, gotta hand it to Colletti & Co. for really taking risks, opening up the checkbook and making just a major splash in the free agent market. To recap, here are those really significant moves by the Dodgers this week:
Dylan Hernandez breaks the huge news of the Reed Johnson one year, $800K deal- Johnson is a decent player, a good fifth outfielder that might hit .282 in limited playing time, with a handful of homeruns. Plays hard, is a good clubhouse guy, deceptively good glove man but reminds me of Jason Repko. Why not just stick with the oft-shuttled, four-A Repko and at least have somebody from the farm?
Tony Jackson resurfaces to announce that Jeff Weaver puts down the Xbox long enough to resign – now anybody that follows YKI knows that I love the Valley Weaver, and in fact he pitched extremely well last year as Utility Pitcher. That said, the resigning is just a harsh reminder that Colletti & McCourt missed out on all of the big name free agent pitchers this year, leaving us with Weaver as a potential fourth or fifth starter.
Alfredo Amezaga accepts a Minor League deal with the Dodgers, though he will probably start the season in the Bigs. Now Amezaga is a versatile fellow – and it will be a pleasure to hear Vin Scully say his name here & there as he racks up the Southwest Rapid Rewards flying frequently between Las Vegas (AAA) & Los Angeles (The Bigs) – but he just can’t hit all that well. Reminds me of a slightly worse Jose Vizcaino, circa 1999.
General Manager Ned Colletti says Dodgers’ payroll unlikely to decrease, according to Dylan Hernandez
Reporting from Indianapolis – In response to widespread speculation that financial troubles could significantly compromise the quality of the Dodgers’ on-field product next season, General Manager Ned Colletti said on the opening day of baseball’s winter meetings that the club intends to spend at least as much on players as it did last season.
Asked whether the Dodgers’ payroll could decrease, Colletti said, “Not at the moment.”
Colletti didn’t rule out that the payroll could increase, and downplayed concerns that have been raised about owner Frank McCourt’s divorce proceedings and the club’s decision not to offer any of its free agents salary arbitration. The club began last season with a payroll of around $100 million.
“A lot of it depends on how the winter unfolds with revenue and different things along those lines,” Colletti said. “If we see good signs, it goes up. If we don’t see good signs, it probably doesn’t go up.”
Colletti said there was no basis to a FoxSports.com report that the Dodgers were encouraging teams inquiring about their relievers to submit trade proposals for setup man George Sherrill, in part because the left-hander is eligible for arbitration and could earn as much as $4 million in 2010.
“I think George Sherrill pitched great for us,” he said. “I think he gives us the same component he gave us last year — that’s somebody who can close, he can pitch late in the game, he’s left-handed, a compliment to our right-hander, [closer Jonathan] Broxton.”
The Dodgers issued a news release Monday to announce that team President Dennis Mannion, who has been in charge of business operations for two years, would also start overseeing baseball operations. Colletti will report to Mannion instead of McCourt but the GM said that shouldn’t result in any noticeable changes. Mannion started sitting in on baseball-operations meetings last winter and has handled the club’s day-to-day operations.
“He’s going to leave baseball to us,” Colletti said.
So what exactly will be different?
“It’s different because of where he’s at, his title and the formality of it,” Colletti said.
With all this said, Colletti acknowledged the Dodgers are unlikely to sign any players this week. Of the Dodgers’ free agents, Colletti said he has been in contact most frequently with catcher Brad Ausmus, whom he would like to re-sign to back up Russell Martin.
Colletti said the Dodgers continue to shop fourth outfielder Juan Pierre, who is owed $18.5 million over the next two seasons. Multiple teams have expressed interest in Pierre and the Dodgers expect to have a better idea by the end of the winter meetings whether they will be able to move him this off-season, sources said.
If the Dodgers trade Pierre, Colletti said, they would want pitching in return.
Colletti said he remains in talks with Manager Joe Torre about a contract extension.
Torre, who has one year remaining on his current deal, wants to manage in 2011 and move into a front-office role in 2012, according to Colletti.
Asked what he envisioned Torre doing for the Dodgers in his post-managerial days, Colletti replied, “Depends on how much time he wants to spend on it. Obviously, he’s a great evaluator and a great motivator and he could probably help us in a lot of different ways.”
Originally By Mark J. Miller
Bringing reliever George Sherrill(notes) from the Baltimore Orioles via trade last season was one of the things that really helped the Los Angeles Dodgers get over the hump and back into the National League Championship Series against the eventual National League champions, the Philadelphia Phillies. Now the word from FOXSports is that the Dodgers have Sherrill up on the trading block.
MSNBC claims that this is a sign that the Dodgers don’t have any money since the team is skittish about giving Sherrill a lot of dough through arbitration. He’s probably going to get a salary worth more than $4 million next year. The Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays are likely very interested in snagging a guy who is under team control through 2011 and has saved 52 games over the past two seasons with a 3.02 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 122.1 innings. The Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers might get into the talks as well.
FOXSports is saying that plenty of teams have come to the Dodgers to ask about relievers Ronald Belisario(notes), Hong Chih-Kuo, and Ramon Troncoso(notes) but the team always turns the talk to Sherrill. L.A. apparently would like a starting pitcher in return for Sherrill.
Sorry about the recent lack of posts, I should be back in full swing by the end of the week.
In the meantime, L.A. Times beat writer Dylan Hernandez dissects the club’s roster & situational needs heading into the winter meetings, as well as the financial implications of the Divorce.
Itching for pitching
By declining to offer Randy Wolf arbitration, the Dodgers essentially bid their most reliable starter farewell. And if they didn’t want him back on a one-year deal — albeit a potentially expensive one — it doesn’t appear likely that they’ll offer him the kind of multiyear contract he is seeking.
Wolf’s likely departure leaves the Dodgers short on arms and experience in their starting rotation, which returns only Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda.
The Dodgers have already said they won’t pursue free agent John Lackey and their chances of acquiring Roy Halladay from Toronto appear slim.
The Dodgers could bring back midseason additions Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland, but will do so only at the right price and length of contract.
General Manager Ned Colletti could do what he did a year ago, when he waited until late in the off-season to sign a starting pitcher. Doing so allowed Colletti to pounce on a pitcher who misread the market and sign him to a bargain deal. That pitcher was Wolf.
Who’s on second?
Seven of the Dodgers’ eight starting position players from 2009 are under contract. The lone vacancy is at second base.
Orlando Hudson, who played the position most of the season, wasn’t offered arbitration by the Dodgers and is even less likely to re-sign with them than is Wolf.
Ronnie Belliard, a late-season pickup, could be brought back, but, like Padilla and Garland, only at the right price. The Dodgers could also turn to in-house candidate Blake DeWitt, a 24-year-old converted third baseman.
The Dodgers were prepared to go with DeWitt as their starting second baseman last season until they signed Hudson early in spring training. The team appears to be taking a similar wait-and-see approach now.
Juan Pierre turned into a fan favorite last summer, but still was the team’s fourth outfielder when Manny Ramirez returned from his 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy.
While Pierre has value as a reserve — particularly with Ramirez turning 38 in May and likely needing frequent days off — the development of prospect Xavier Paul could make him expendable.
To move Pierre, the Dodgers might have to agree to pay a significant portion of the $18.5 million owed him over the next two seasons. Their preference would be to trade Pierre for a pitcher with a similar contract in what would be a swap of oversized deals.
The importance of the Dodgers’ bench last season cannot be overstated. Because catcher Brad Ausmus and infielders Mark Loretta and Juan Castro were hitting early in the season, the Dodgers were able to carry 13 pitchers until Manager Joe Torre settled on roles for his previously unproven relievers.
The Dodgers are trying to re-sign Ausmus, but who will provide depth in the infield is anyone’s guess. The club isn’t expected to pursue Loretta. Castro signed with the Phillies, which could result in an opening on the major league roster for former minor league
player of the year Chin-lung Hu.
Colletti has perfected the art of dumpster diving. His ability to pull gems out of scrap heaps could be more important now than in years past, considering the budget restraints he appears to be operating under.
Jeff Weaver, Ronald Belisario, Eric Milton and Charlie Haeger made surprising contributions last season.
Among the potential reclamation pitching projects the Dodgers are thinking of undertaking include once-effective reliever Luis Ayala and former Giants pitcher Noah Lowry, who has been sidelined the last two years by arm trouble. Lowry might give the Dodgers a second left-hander in a predominantly right-handed starting rotation.
The Dodgers’ projected lineup, based on current roster. (Keys in boldface correspond to boldface in story):
|1. Rafael Furcal||shortstop|
|2. Matt Kemp||center field|
|3. Andre Ethier||right field|
|4. Manny Ramirez||left field|
|5. James Loney||first base|
|6. Casey Blake||third base|
|7. Russell Martin||catcher|
|8. Blake DeWitt||second base|
|1. Clayton Kershaw||left-handed|
|2. Chad Billingsley||right-handed|
|3. Hiroki Kuroda||right-handed|
|4. James McDonald||right-handed|
|5. Charlie Haeger||right-handed|
|Jonathan Broxton (closer)||right-handed|
|George Sherrill (setup)||left-handed|
|BEST OF THE BENCH|