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Dodgers Dugout: Opening Day is almost here

Gavin Lux
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell. and finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, we are on the verge of having baseball games that actually count to discuss.

Real baseball games where we can criticize players for failing to do things we couldn’t do if given 100 chances. Real baseball games to take our minds off the current craziness in the world. Sure, it’s only 60 games and some of the rules will be different, but it’s better than nothing. I think.

The Dodgers open the season Thursday night against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN. This will be our first real look at how well these games will come off on TV.

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Crowd noise will be piped in. Dieter Ruehle will be there with his great musical selections. The announcers will be there (except Charley Steiner, who you can read about below).

The cardboard cutouts will be there, though judging by the exhibition games, the program hasn’t been a huge success. Perhaps they are holding a lot in reserve for the opener. According to one news release from the team, they have sold around 4,500 cutouts and are introducing a new program where you can have a cutout of your dog, for $149. I’m telling you, sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

We will also get to see some new rules officially debut. A DH in the NL. Relievers must face three batters. A runner starts the inning on second base when the game goes into extra innings.

We also could be witnessing the start of the final season for these Dodgers: Justin Turner, Kiké Hernández, Joc Pederson, Pedro Báez and of course those long-time Dodgers, Mookie Betts and Jimmy Nelson.

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But the important thing is baseball is back. Not like we’re used to, but back nonetheless. Sort of like that nephew you haven’t seen since he was 8. Now he’s 16 and looks a lot different, but he’s still the same person underneath.

This just in

The Dodgers agreed to a massive 12-year deal with Mookie Betts worth $367 million, a tremendous turnaround for a team that has been wary of giving large contracts to free agents. The deal includes a $65 million signing bonus. Betts will make $10 million during this abbreviated season and the extension will begin in 2021. This is slightly more than the contract I have with the Times. There is no opt-out clause in this deal.

Betts, acquired from the Boston Red Sox along with David Price for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong, was under contract for just the 2020 season.

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“It’s what I’ve been working for my whole life,” Betts, 27, said on a video-conference with reporters. “My family has been part of this, my parents have been a part of this. Everybody who has been a part of this whole thing, this is the day that we’ve been dreaming about.”

Is this a good deal? Impossible to say at the moment. On the surface, yes, especially because Betts is only 27 and considered one of the best players in baseball. In the long-term? Depends on how well Betts ages. One thing this does is end the narrative that the Dodgers won’t shell out the big bucks when it counts. Think about it his way: Betts is under contract until 2032. How old will you be then? I’ll be 19.

Short of signing Mike Trout, it’s hard to imagine a better signing for the Dodgers at the moment. The question this raises though: What will Cody Bellinger want when he becomes a free agent? And what will this do to offseason negotiations with Turner? These are the doubts that always creep into my mind when things like this happens.

And of course, just because you sign a 12-year deal doesn’t mean you will spend all 12 years with that team. Matt Kemp and Kevin Brown signed big deals and didn’t finish their contracts with L.A.

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Let’s take a look at some Betts numbers:

Biggest contracts the Dodgers have given to a player:

Mookie Betts, 12 years, $365 million

Clayton Kershaw, 7 years, $215 million (2014-2020)

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Matt Kemp, 8 years, $160 million (2012-19)

Zack Greinke, 6 years, $147 million (2013-18)

Kevin Brown, 7 years , $105 million (1999-2005)

Andre Ethier, 5 years, $85 million (2013-17)

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Shawn Green, 6 years, $84 million (2000-05)

Kenley Jansen, 5 years, $80 million (2017-21)

Justin Turner, 4 years, $64 million (2017-20)

Note: Kemp and Brown were traded during their deal; Greinke opted out of contract after three years and signed with Arizona; Kershaw opted out after the 2018 season and signed a 3-year, $93-million deal with Dodgers.

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Players with most Wins Above Replacement since 2015, Betts’ first full season:

1. Mike Trout, Angels, 45.1

2. Mookie Betts, Dodgers, 39.5

3. Nolan Arenado, Colorado, 31.4

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4. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis, 28.3

5. Jose Altuve, Houston, 28.0

6. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland, 27.6

7. Manny Machado, San Diego, 27.0

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8. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee, 26.4

9. Joey Votto, Cincinnati, 26.0

10. Josh Donaldson, Atlanta, 25.6

Players with highest OPS+ from 2015-19 (minimum 3,000 plate appearances):

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1. Mike Trout, Angels, 183

2. Nelson Cruz, Minnesota, 151

3. Joey Votto, Cincinnati, 146

4. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta, 144

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4. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia, 144

6. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee, 143

7. Jose Altuve, Houston, 141

8. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis, 139

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9. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs, 139

10. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs, 136

11. Mookie Betts, Dodgers, 134

Outfielders with highest Defensive WAR from 2015-19 (minimum 450 games played)

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1. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay, 13.5

2. Mookie Betts, Dodgers, 9.7

3. Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee, 8.8

4. Billy Hamilton, San Francisco, 7.4

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5. Kevin Pillar, Boston, 7.3

6. Ender Inciarte, Atlanta, 7.1

7. Jarrod Dyson, Pittsburgh, 6.5

7. Jake Marisnick, New York Mets, 6.5

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9. Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston, 5.2

10. Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs, 4.8

For an explanation of WAR, click here. For OPS+, click here.

For Bill Plaschke’s take on the deal, click here.

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For Bill Shaikin’s analysis of the deal, click here.

Gavin Lux sent down

Top prospect Gavin Lux, who started at second base for the Dodgers in the postseason last year, was sent to the equivalent of the minors on Monday, meaning second base will be shared by Hernandez and Chris Taylor this season.

“I just think it’s more [a case] of there’s a lot that goes into his swing and, at this point in time, he just wasn’t synched up,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And so nothing against him.”

Lux will be at the Dodgers’ alternate training camp at USC, where he will play in simulated games with the rest of the 60-man player pool not on the 30-man active roster.

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There is every reason to believe Lux will be back at some point this season and this shouldn’t be looked at as a big deal.

Meanwhile

The Dodgers signed left-handed reliever Jake McGee to a one-year deal. He posted a 4.35 ERA with Colorado last season, holding left-handed hitters to a .235 batting average in 75 plate appearances. He gave up two homers in his first exhibition appearance, but he drove from Denver to L.A., so cut him a bit of slack for that.

Where’s Charley?

Charley Steiner will still be calling games on the radio for the Dodgers this season, but he won’t be at Dodger Stadium. He’ll be home.

Steiner is high risk if he gets COVID-19, so he was going to opt out of this season, but the Dodgers came up with a plan: They built him a radio booth in his home so he can call games from there.

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As reported by Jorge Castillo, the setup includes three flat-screen televisions — one mounted and one on the floor on either side. One has a direct feed from the television broadcast truck. Another has a stationary angle from above for a view of all the fielders called “The All-9". The third features shots of the bullpen and a running scoreboard.

He has called an exhibition game using this setup, and it worked perfectly. And he can fail to give the score frequently enough just as easily from home as he can from the stadium!

Check this out

I don’t often just give you a link to a story for your read, but I am for this one. Bill Shaikin wrote a fine story on how Vin Scully and the Dodgers faked an entire broadcast 52 years ago. Read it here.

Ask Ross Porter

Former Dodgers broadcaster Ross Porter is back for another season of “Ask Ross Porter.” We have a new email address this season for it. Ross will have access to this email address and will get your questions without me having to forward them. So, if you have a message (like thanking him for his years as a broadcaster) and not a question, feel free to let him know. Send your question or comment to rossporterdodgers@gmail.com.

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Kevin Armstrong of Lees Summit, Mo. asks: As we finally get baseball started, Ross, how are the Dodgers expected to do?

Ross: Before the Dodgers No. 3 pitcher David Price opted to miss this season Kevin, the Dodgers and Yankees were 3-1 co-favorites to win the World Series, and they remain one of the teams to beat. One oddsmaker predicts the Dodgers will have a record of 37 and 23 in the regular season and the Yanks will go 36 and 24.

The Dodgers are coming off a season in which they won a team record 108 games and have made the playoffs in 11 of the last 16 years, including the last seven. Unfortunately, they were 0-2 in World Series, losing eight of 12 games, 2-4 in the NLCS, bowing in 20 of 34 contests, and 6-5 in the NLDS, winning 24 of 43 matchups. That meant the Dodgers went 42-47 in postseason play in that 11-year span.

It is surprising to know the Yankees have not been in the World Series the last 11 seasons since they won it all in 2009. To top that, it has been almost 39 years since the Dodgers played the Yankees in a World Series — L.A. winning in 1981.

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Dale Johnson asks: I loved your stats on the Dodgers games. How many times during a game does the pitcher and catcher change their signs?

Ross: Who better to answer than Rick Dempsey, who along with Carlton Fisk played a record 24 seasons behind the plate in the major leagues.

Rick tells me a pitcher and catcher usually change their signs two times a game. With no one on base, the catcher normally puts down one finger for a fastball, two fingers for a curve, three for a slider and wiggles a fourth for another pitch. That might be a changeup, knuckleball, screwball, forkball, slurve, or palm ball.

If the pitcher wants to change the pitch, he may move his glove down his leg which adds one number to the catcher’s finger total while a glove moved up the leg subtracts one number.

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Baseball has its own sign language with messages. Catcher signals are highly important as he appraises the batter, location of runners, inning, score and next hitter. It is very crucial for a player to understand the signals. With a runner at second base, sometimes the actual sign is not the first one a catcher puts down but the second, third, fourth or last. Some pitchers don’t shake off their catcher, but delay the windup or delivery out of a stretch until getting the sign they want. Pitchers and catchers also establish signs for determining if the pitch is going to be aimed high, low, inside or outside.

Dempsey, the 1983 World Series MVP for the Orioles, remembers two things about the Dodgers postseason success in 1988 when he and his teammates became World Series champions. In the National League Championship Series against the Mets, who had defeated the Dodgers in 10 of 11 regular season games, Rick came up with a plan.

At Shea Stadium when the Mets were threatening to score and the crowd was making loud noise, he would call timeout and walk to the mound where he said nothing to his pitcher. His reasoning was the home crowd would quiet down while he stalled, New York would lose the momentum it had and the Dodger pitcher would not be as nervous. Dempsey says the World Series against the heavily favored A’s that year was the easiest challenge he can remember. Rick studied the feet of the Oakland hitters when they stood in the batters box, and watched to see if they used an open, closed, or square stance. That allowed him to call pitches that frustrated the A’s, who hit .177 in a five-game loss. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire combined to go two for 36.

Michael Plunkett asks: I am under the impression that when the Angels played home games at Dodger Stadium their announcers were told to refer to the field as Chavez Ravine. Is it true that Vin and Jerry Doggett were instructed by the O’Malleys to always call it Dodger Stadium?

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Ross: No truth to that at all.

Jason Winston of Riverside asks: Hi, Ross. Thank you for providing so many great memories through your broadcasts. I recently stumbled upon a couple of episodes of the old Home Run Derby show on YouTube and swear that’s your voice doing the introductions to open the show, not the host Mark Scott. Am I right?

Ross: Your ears are at a major-league level, Jason. Yes, it is I. Home Run Derby went on the air in 1960. On the original show, all the sound elements were married on one audio track. In order to update the voiceover for the re-release on the ESPN Classic channel, the voiceover had to be re-done and a new music theme composed and recorded. This way all of the audio elements would be on separate tracks. Richard Kaufman, who supervised music at MGM/United Artists which owned the show, created a new music theme, and was given the job of finding someone to do the voiceover. Richard approached me in 1994 and I accepted his offer. The scripts were prepared for me, I walked into a Hollywood studio, and completed my assignment in five minutes.

By the way, Thursday would have been Don Drysdale‘s 84th birthday. We lost him 27 years ago this month.

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What are the odds?

Just to piggyback on what Ross said above, here are the betting line win totals for each major league team as set by BetOnline.ag.

AL East

New York Yankees 36½

Tampa Bay Rays 33½

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Boston Red Sox 30½

Toronto Blue Jays 27½

Baltimore Orioles 20½

AL Central

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Minnesota Twins 34½

Cleveland Indians 33½

Chicago White Sox 31½

Kansas City Royals 25½

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Detroit Tigers 22½

AL West

Houston Astros 34½

Oakland Athletics 33½

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Angels 31½

Texas Rangers 29½

Seattle Mariners 24½

NL East

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Atlanta Braves 33½

Washington Nationals 33½

New York Mets 32½

Philadelphia Phillies 30½

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Miami Marlins 24½

NL Central

Cincinnati Reds 32

Chicago Cubs 31½

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Milwaukee Brewers 31½

St. Louis Cardinals 31½

Pittsburgh Pirates 25½

NL West

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Los Angeles Dodgers 37½

Arizona Diamondbacks 30½

San Diego Padres 30½

Colorado Rockies 27½

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San Francisco Giants 24½

Up next

Thursday: San Francisco (Johnny Cueto) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw), 7 p.m., ESPN, AM 570
Friday: San Francisco at Dodgers (Ross Stripling), 6:30 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570
Saturday: San Francisco at Dodgers (Alex Wood), 1 p.m., Fox, AM 570
Sunday: San Francisco at Dodgers (Julio Urias), 7 p.m., ESPN, AM 570

And finally

For those of you asking, “Your First Dodgers Memory” will return next week. In the meantime, enjoy our Opening Day tradition, The Dodgers Song by Danny Kaye! Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.

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