Times They are a-Changin’

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L.A. Angels Hideki Matsui, above, and fellow countryman Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers will most likely find themselves in different uniforms come next season. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By JORDAN IKEDA
RAFU SPORTS EDITOR

After three years of relative success for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and nearly a decade of success for the Los Angeles Angels, I hearken back to one of Bob Dylan’s finest songs—“The Times, They are a Changin’.”

It’s going to be quite a rollercoaster offseason for the two local baseball teams, undoubtedly giving the city a lot more excitement with their off-the-field antics juxtaposed with the poor representation on the field this past season.

Both teams limp into the winter in pathetic fashion with the odds favoring ending their 2010 campaigns with records below .500. Then, after Sunday, everything will be uncharacteristically quiet, at least in the early part of October, seeing as neither will be qualifying for the playoffs.

Following the World Series, is when the inevitable, loud, painful, screeching noise will begin.

The Dodgers will be waiting on pins and needles for potentially the next three months in regards to what the judge in the McCourt divorce trial will decide after hearing both closing remarks from Jaime and Frank’s lawyers yesterday.

That decision will have long-ranging effects on top of the already precarious financial state in which the Dodgers currently find themselves. Worst case is that the McCourts did in fact burn through all of the Dodgers’ assets, conducting a Ponzi scheme in spirit if not in the literal sense, and have left the team with nothing but $433 million in debt.

According to documents filed in the divorce case, McCourt was turned down by at least three different investors, and despite the fact the team revenue has been up in the $200 million range and the team has cut its payroll down to $95 million, every dollar earned has gone to paying off the debt.

Best case is that the judge overseeing the divorce trial forces the McCourts to sell the team. While it would mean basically tossing in the towel for next season, a sale to an entity that, you know, actually has money would be ideal, especially considering L.A. is the second biggest market in the country and annually has the highest attendance even with the mediocre teams it had taking the field at the beginning of the decade. With zero money and several free agents, the 2011 Dodgers could be rolling sans Jonathon Broxton, Russell Martin, James Loney, Scott Podsednik, Ted Lilly, Reed Johnson, and George Sherrill. However you feel about how any of those guys performed this past season, that’s still a lot of veteran talent that will be replaced with whatever flotsam Ned Colletti can come up with, with what will assuredly be a tight budget. It’s no wonder that Joe Torre jumped ship when he did.

When contrasted with the Dodgers, the Angels look a rosy shade of red. Though, code red would be more fitting a description. After averaging 93 wins and accumulating five division titles, the Angels, who will be lucky to win 80 this year, are standing at a precipice.

Do they dive in, trusting in the wings that have carried them for the past decade by spending tons of cash to bring in highly coveted free agents? Or, do they take a deep breath, step back, and recognize that those wings have slowly begun to molt over the years, and instead focus on rebuilding for the future?

There are many important decisions that both franchises will be making in the coming months, but two will have the biggest impact on the Japanese and Japanese American communities of Los Angeles. The fates of two players rest somewhere within these decisions. Both will be free agents, and both, I expect, will be on their way out of LA.

Hiroki Kuroda had the best season of his three-year MLB career posting a career low 3.39 ERA and career highs in wins (11), innings pitched (196.1) and strikeouts (159). The Dodgers are expected to make an attempt to keep Kuroda, but won’t be offering him arbitration, avoiding the $13 million price tag that comes with it.

Kuroda may have pitched his last game in Dodger blue.

Kuroda, 35, is wrapping up his finest season in the Major Leagues even if his 11-13 record suggests otherwise. In 196.1 innings spread across 30 starts, he’s posted a 3.39 ERA with 2.3 BB/9 and a career best 7.4 K/9. Through 482.2 big league innings, he owns a rock solid 3.60 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9, which is the kind of performance any team would love to add to their rotation.

The only two negatives are his age and his health track record. He missed close to three weeks with shoulder tendinitis in 2008 then almost two months with an oblique strain last season. There was also that scary concussion last season that cost him three weeks. It should be noted that he’s been perfectly healthy this year.

The problem is the Dodgers lack of cashflow. While Kuroda might not be worth $13 million, failing to offer him arbitration means losing out on a compensation pick. If and when he hits the open market, plenty of teams will be interested, especially if that price tag drops to around $8-10 million.

And with the state of the Dodgers, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kuroda suits up for a different team next season, and that includes teams in the NPB.

As for the Angels, there aren’t too many scenarios that I can see where Hideki Matsui will be returning. It’s not so much that Matsui under-performed, though, expectations might have been unrealistic due to his unreal World Series, it’s more for what he represents and the changes that were made after he came on board. After all, for a guy making $6 million, he actually put up a pretty decent season, almost identical in every way to last year save the homerun total.

What Matsui did, was change the fundamental culture of what the Angels have cultivated during the Mike Scioscia era. By subtracting Chone Figgins and replacing him with Matsui, the team went away from defense-and-speed and tried to emulate power-and-patience like the Yankees and Phillies. The Angels power never materialized due in part to the season-ending injury of Kendry Morales and the simple fact that the team simply didn’t have the talent to pull a P&P approach off.

Furthermore, the patience of the entire lineup became frazzled causing normally patient guys like Bobby Abreu, Matsui and even Torii Hunter to push outside their comfort zones.

Evidence to a return to Scioscia-ball is clearly apparent in whom the Angels are targeting this offseason. The Rays’ 29-year-old outfielder, Carl Crawford, he of the 408 career stolen bases, is tops on the list, followed closely by third base defensive whiz Adrian Beltre.

Add to this the fact Matsui had problems with injuries, has a lengthy injury history, is unable to play the field, that Juan Rivera despite having a down season, can pretty much replicate Matsui’s 2010 production at 2/3rds the cost, and that Matsui will be 37-years-old next year, and the decision for him not to return seems set in stone. After years of being spoiled with tremendous Japanese talent here in Los Angeles, from Hideo Nomo to Takashi Saito to Matsui and Kuroda, there’s every possibility that next season the City of Angels will be without a Japanese face…

With everything so up in the air following two disastrous seasons for LA’s MLB franchises, perhaps it’s best if I pay heed to Dylan’s words…

“And don’t speak to soon, for the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’, for the loser now, will be later to win,”

Yup, the times, they are a-changin’.

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Jordan Ikeda is the Rafu Sports Editor. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.


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