PHOENIX — Look around the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, and there are stars all over you turn.
There are 3 Most Valuable Player award winners in Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. The space is filled with 13 All-Stars.
There’s supervisor Dave Roberts, who has the very best gaining portion of any supervisor with a minimum of 1,000 video games.
There’s president Andrew Friedman, maybe the finest executive in the video game.
There are 9 department titles, 3 National League pennants and a World Series champion prize being in their prize case from the last ten years.
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They have actually won a minimum of 104 video games in 4 of the last 5 complete seasons, consisting of a franchise-record 111 success last season.
And yet here they are, dismissed like aToyota Corolla in a National League parking area filled with Mercedes.
The Dodgers no longer are baseball’s Shangri-La, eclipsed by the free-spending San Diego Padres in the West, and the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta in the East.
The Dodgers led the league in payroll the previous 2 seasons, however chose to keep expenses down this winter season by investing simply $44.5 million in totally free firm – and folks think they have actually changed into the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s as if they invested the winter season shopping at Walmart while everybody else hung out at Oscar de la Renta, letting totally free representatives Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Tyler Anderson walk and changing them with bargain-basement offers for Noah Syndergaard, J.D. Martinez, David Peralta, Jason Heyward, Alex Reyes and Shelby Miller.
How rapidly they forget.
“It’s just the nature of the beast,’’ Kershaw tells USA TODAY Sports. “I think the people that make the biggest splashes in the offseason have the most excitement coming into spring training. It just so happens that we usually are those guys doing that.
“It is a little bit of a different perspective for us this spring training, which may not be a bad thing.’’
The Dodgers may still be be a juggernaut, but when you don’t know who will be your starting center fielder or closer, have questions at three infield positions and must rely on unproven pitchers for depth in the rotation, it’s easy to see why the Padres are considered the darlings of the West.
The Dodgers, for the first time in a decade, back in the days when Frank McCourt nearly ran the organization into bankruptcy, may no longer be the overwhelming favorites to win the division.
“I don’t mind it,’’ Roberts says. “I think that the smartest people in the room know that you don’t win a postseason in the winter. So, a lot of teams are getting a lot of [attention], which is great, but I know our guys believe we still have a good ballclub.’’
Roberts doesn’t plan to come out and boldly predict the Dodgers will win the World Series like a year ago, but if you ask him, he still believes they’ll be the last ones standing.
“I think the expectations might be more tempered in the media or the industry,’’ Roberts says, “but I don’t think the players or anyone else in the organization doesn’t expect us to be the champions.’’
The Dodgers will tell you they are more amused than angered by the disrespect.
You want to count ‘em out, feel free.
Just don’t expect to be invited back on the bandwagon when the Dodgers are rolling all summer.
“It makes no difference to me,’’ catcher Will Smith says. “We still feel like we have the best team in baseball. We don’t really focus on any other team but ourselves.’’
Indeed, there are players in the Dodgers clubhouse who avoid uttering that dirty word: Padres.
“It’s kind of comical,’’ veteran reliever Blake Treinen says. “It’s interesting that when you think of teams that are successful year in and year out, people are looking for a way to crave new attention. You know the teams. At the end of the day, it’s all what happens on the field.
“The way they handle things in LA, you can never count out the Dodgers, not with all of the great players and all of the talent in this clubhouse. There’s a lot of good teams out there, but at the end of the day it comes down to health, talent, and luck.
“We’re going to be fine, just fine.’’
The Dodgers still have one of the best farm systems in baseball and can trade whatever assets they want at the trade deadline, but they also have some tricks up their sleeve – like Syndergaard.
The way he looks this spring, with his velocity jumping back up to 96-mph and higher, he could turn out to be the free-agent pickup of the year for just $13 million.
“The Dodgers are the best at player development,’’ Syndergaard says, “and turn guys around. I know I have a lot left in the tank, and there’s a lot to unlock. Last year, I went out and competed (10-10, 3.94 ERA) by most standards, but it wasn’t up to my standard of performance. I want to dominate, not just get by. I want to thrive, not just survive.
“I feel completely different. Just being here, this aura, this vibe, this kind of swagger with the culture, it inspires all of us.’’
And, yes, a little chip on those broad shoulders doesn’t hurt, either.
“We never really cared when we were the subjective favorite,’’ Kershaw said, “and we really don’t care that we’re not now. I think with [the Padres] getting their attention, it’s just a different vibe.
“That might not necessarily be a bad thing.’’
Kershaw broke into an expansive grin. No further words were necessary.
In loving memory
Center fielder Bernie Williams delighted New York Yankee fans for 16 years, winning four World Series championships, becoming a five-time All-Star, and having his plaque in Monument Park.
He has had a brilliant music as a jazz guitarist, and has been nominated for a Grammy award.
He still assists the Yankees today, and will be a guest instructor this spring.
But perhaps his greatest satisfaction in life is honoring his late father, Bernabe Williams Sr., who died May 14, 2001, by raising awareness for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
“It was devastating,’’ Williams told USA TODAY Sports, “he became a shell of what he was. The disease ate him alive. He was drowning every day from it and ultimately died from it.
“He never complained, always had a positive outlook, and had so much dignity to the end. I could not have possibly had a better father. I think about him every single day, and I knew the best thing I could do was give back one day.’’
Here he is now, raising awareness for the deadly disease with the Tune in to Lung Health campaign.
If his father had been made aware of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, it just might have saved his life.
“It was so devastating to see what my dad went through,’’ Williams said, “I don’t want to see it happen to anyone. I just want to educate people and gets a diagnosis because it’s so often misdiagnosed as a cough or asthma or something.
“There were so many misdiagnosis’ with my dad. He had this dry cough, and he was always fatigued. We thought it was a bad cold that became bronchitis or asthma or pneumonia. It turns out he was misdiagnosed for five years.’’
Williams’ hero was his father. He was there playing catch and throwing batting practice to Bernie growing up in Puerto Rico. He was at all of Bernie’s World Series games, celebrating with him in the clubhouse, and riding on the parade floats. And he was there playing and singing to his sons, teaching Bernie how to play the guitar and his younger brother, Hiram, the cello.
“I remember him buying a guitar and bringing it home one day,’’ Williams said. “We would sit around and listen to him play for hours. He got me interested in music, showing how important music and art is, and helped me become who I am today.’’
Today, that music is being used for patients battling pressure, anxiety and depression from the disease, while also assisting in breathing techniques.
“It wasn’t until this campaign came along that I got to re-live a lot of those emotions and feelings,’’ Williams says, “and process them in a way that’s healthy. The great part, the byproduct of this, is helping other people. This means everything to me.
“As a baseball player, you never get the sense on what impact you can make on a daily basis. Here, I have the opportunity to see the impact of what we are doing for people.
“It’s such a rewarding experience.’’
Around the basepaths
– Just how far apart are All-Star third baseman Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres in their contract extension talks?
Would you believe a whopping $145 million?
The Padres offered Machado a five-year, $105 million extension this week. The contract would begin in 2029, keeping his original 10-year, $300 million deal intact. Machado has five years and $150 million remaining after this season.
Machado is countering with a 10-year, $400 million extension that would begin in 2024, opting out of his original contract after this season.
That would take him to the age of 41, the same age the Padres are paying shortstop Xander Bogaerts and the Philadelphia Phillies are giving shortstop Trea Turner in their new deals.
If the Padres don’t pay it, well, don’t think for a second that someone like the New York Mets or Yankees or San Francisco Giants or the Chicago Cubs will hesitate.
“There’s a lot of money out there,’’ Machado says. “A lot of money. These owners are making a lot of money, and we’re bringing a lot of money too. … We’re having a good time and filling up the seats. It’s about business. These are things that happen.
“The market has changed from when I signed five years ago. It’s changed tremendously. Things change and evolve. And as a player that’s about to opt out, it’s pretty good to see.”
– It was going to cost $200,000 for Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw to be guaranteed to play in the World Baseball Classic since of past back injuries. There is a behind-the-scenes motion to decrease the insurance coverage to $160,000, with Kershaw ready to pay part of the policy himself, however it’s not likely that MLB and the Dodgers would cover the rest.
– Friends near to Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias, irritated by the pitch restricts that the company has actually set throughout his profession, are persuaded that he’ll leave as a complimentary representative after the season.
– Phillies owner John Middleton is definitely cherished in Philadelphia, and is making it completely clear to their fanbase that he desires the Phillies to be kept in mind as one of the best groups in baseball history.
“My goal,’’ Middleton told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “is that we create a team that, 100 years from now, when people ask the question, ‘What are the greatest teams in the history of baseball,’ the Phillies are in the conversation.”
The Phillies have actually invested more than $1 billion in free-agent finalizings considering that the 2018-2019 off-season and have a franchise-record $244 million payroll entering this spring – fourth-largest in baseball.
“If my legacy is that I didn’t lose any money owning a baseball team on an annual operating basis, that’s a pretty sad legacy. It’s about putting trophies in the cases. …
“The day I wake up and I’m not thinking about what we can do to make ourselves the best team in baseball history, I’m retiring. I’m walking away. I’m really not interested in anything else.”
– The Angels are carefully positive that 3rd baseman Anthony Rendon, who has actually been among baseball’s greatest free-agent busts, will recover this season.
Rendon, 32, who signed a seven-year, $245 million agreement 3 years back, has actually missed out on 219 video games the last 2 seasons. He has actually struck simply 20 homers with 89 RBI considering that his arrival, after striking 34 homers with a league-leading 126 RBI in his last season with the Washington Nationals.
“He’s definitely hearing the sound from a great deal of individuals, and you can hear it in his voice, the method he talks that he’s all set to show those men incorrect,’’ Angels supervisor Phil Nevin states. “I will not be stunned if he comes out and he’s playing all of the time, he’s great, back being Anthony Rendon, and the injuries lag him. …
“He states he feels as excellent as he has in a long period of time. Our discussions this winter season have actually been actually excellent. Our exercises, he hasn’t missed out on anything. He’s all set to go. He’s thrilled. He’s at an age where he’s got a lot left, peak left. And he feels that method.’’
– Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, 30, who still has ten years staying on his 12-year, $365 million agreement, likely will end his profession at 2nd base, supervisor Dave Roberts anticipates.
“We have a lot depth on the infield now, I don’t see it occurring this year,’’ Roberts states, “however as Father Time takes it toll, I wouldn’t be amazed to see Mookie play the last 4 years of his profession at 2nd base.’’
– The Phillies are attempting to sign ace Aaron Nola to an agreement extension prior to opening day. He’s eligible free of charge firm after the season.
– Houston Astros GM Dana Brown notified representative Scott Boras that they wish to make infielders Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman “Astros for life,’’ with extensions. They each are qualified free of charge firm after the 2024 season.
– Dan Lozano and the MVP Sports Group was the huge winner of the arbitration hearings this month by going 4-1, the most success by a company in arbitration history.
Miami Marlins 2nd baseman Luis Arraez: $6.1 million (Win)
Marlins starter Jesus Luzardo: $2.45 million (Win)
Los Angeles Angels infielder Luis Rengifo: $2.3 million (Win).
Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Harold Ramirez: $2.2 million (Win)
Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas: $2.575 million (Loss)
Houston Astros starter Cristian Javier: five-years, $64 million (Settlement)
– The greatest loser of the arbitration hearings were the Milwaukee Brewers, who outraged Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes in their hearing, insinuating that the was the factor they missed out on the playoffs.
The guy went 12-8 with a 2.94 AGE, and set out a league-leading 243 batters.
“There’s no rejecting that the relationship is certainly injured from what [transpired] over the last couple weeks,’’ Burnes informed press reporters. “There’s actually no chance of navigating that …They essentially put me at the leading edge of the reason we didn’t make the postseason in 2015. That’s something that most likely doesn’t require to be stated, we can set about a hearing without needing to do that.’’
– The Scottsdale, Ariz., arena stands at Salt River Fields were filled by scouts representing every group in baseball on Friday enjoying Tennessee Vols ace Chase Dollander, the possible No. 1 choice in this summertime’s amateur draft.
The video game was so hyped that San Diego Padres All-Star outfielder Juan Soto even got a seat behind home base with previous colleague Howie Kendrick.
– The Negro League Family Alliance is revealing an effort today to assist protect the traditions of Negro Leagues’ Players to inform and empower urban kids thinking about sports and history.
The Alliance is hoping that MLB will commemorate May 2 as Negro Leagues Day, celebrating the very first Negro Leagues Game on May 2, 1920, in between the Indianapolis ABCs and the Chicago American Giants in Indianapolis.
– Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has actually had 6 seasons in which he has actually made a minimum of 30 starts. That’s 2 more than the remainder of the rotation integrated.
Certainly, he’s required more than ever with the Frankie Montas trade becoming a total catastrophe. Montas, gotten by the Yankees from the Oakland A’s last summertime, has actually been a humiliating bust.
Montas, who went 1-3 with a 6.35 age in 8 starts with the Yankees, is headed for shoulder surgical treatment on Tuesday that is anticipated to sideline him the whole season.
“Clearly, it hasn’t exercised at all,’’ Yankees GM Brian Cashman informed press reporters. “We didn’t actually get anything out of it.
– Dr. Lawrence Rocks has actually developed a brand-new analytic stat called Torsion Recoil. It equates into pop-ups and ground balls per ball contact. It exposes the ball’s unexpected flight course. The lower ball game, the much better.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This post initially appeared on U.S.A. TODAY: LA Dodgers not NL West favorites for 2023? ‘May not be a bad thing’