Although the Dodgers have gone to great lengths to make their new spring training facility in Glendale, Ariz., the finest in all of baseball, it already has generated one mini-controversy. Rather than the traditional green screen or wall behind center field, the "batter's eye" at the main stadium will consist of a densely planted grove of mature Arizona pines.
Officials of the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox are crossing their fingers in hopes that the trees will provide enough of a background and block out enough of the desert sunlight.
"That's a no comment right there," said Los Angeles catcher Russell Martin, who joined a tour of the facility on Jan. 15 with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
There is, however, a contingency plan in place in the event the trees aren't sufficient. In fact, there is said to be screen already constructed that could be erected on short notice if players complain that it is too difficult to pick up the ball out of the pitcher's hand.
"The hope is that the trees will serve as the batter's eye," McCourt said. "We'll see if they are opaque enough. It's a fast-growing tree and a dense-growing tree. They're going in as big trees, and they grow fast."
Notes & Quotes
--The Dodgers have attempted to make their new spring home in Glendale, Ariz., have some of the same elements as their longtime spring locale in Vero Beach, Florida.
"You won't see fences and you won't see barricades between our fans and our players," team owner Frank McCourt said. "When you went to (Vero Beach), you saw a simple cord that separated fans from the players. That intimacy is what characterized Vero Beach, and we were very, very committed to bringing that here for our fans.
One longstanding staple of Dodgertown that won't be carried over -- not yet, anyway -- is on-site lodging for players.
But McCourt did say he has a tentative plan in mind, one that will take several years to come to fruition if it comes to fruition at all, for a hotel and conference center.
Those facilities could be used for minor league housing during spring training and the summer Arizona League season, as well as for amateur players for youth tournaments during the rest of the year.
--RHP Ramon Troncoso, who hasn't started regularly since he was in low Class A ball in 2005, will compete for a spot in the rotation in spring training. After surprisingly making the club out of camp last spring, Troncoso made 32 relief appearances as a rookie, posting a 4.26 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 12 walks in 38 innings. At the request of Dodgers officials, Troncoso made four starts in the Dominican winter league.
--CF Andruw Jones was given his unconditional release on Jan. 15. The move became all but inevitable when Jones agreed two weeks ago to restructure his contract in exchange for being released or traded, and the latter seemed unlikely given that he still is owed $22.1 million after hitting .158 last year. Under terms of the restructuring, the Dodgers will play Jones slightly less than $3.7 million for each of the next six years.
--C Russell Martin said recently that he is open to the possibility of signing a long-term contract, but it doesn't appear likely he will get one right away. Martin is eligible for arbitration for the first time, and he is due to exchange numbers with the club on Jan. 20. Martin has rebuffed past attempts of club officials to sign him to a long-term deal.
--OF Jason Repko filed for arbitration on Jan. 15 and would seem to be the most likely of the Dodgers' four arbitration-eligible players to reach an agreement quickly. Repko has played in a total of 22 big-league games over the past two seasons, missing all of 2007 after surgery to repair a torn left hamstring he suffered in a spring training game. Repko avoided arbitration last year by agreeing at $487,500, and he has little chance of making the big-league club out of camp this year.
--OF Andre Ethier is arbitration-eligible for the first time. Ethier had an outstanding season while making only $424,500 and stands to receive a significant raise. He batted .305 with 30 doubles, 20 homers and 77 RBIs.
-- Innings averaged over the past four seasons by RHP Derek Lowe, who never pitched fewer than 199.1 during his time with the Dodgers. Lowe recently signed a four-year, $60 million contract with the Braves after the Dodgers made no serious attempt to re-sign him. Only one of the Dodgers' projected starters, RHP Chad Billingsley, has ever pitched 200 innings in a season, and he has done it only once.
Quote to Note: "Over the course of the next several weeks, we will be in extensive discussions with agents and hopefully be able to settle these contracts before spring training so that we can have everybody on the same page and focused on the upcoming season." -- Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng, who handles arbitration cases for the club and has a reputation for doing so shrewdly, including beating Eric Gagne in 2004 after Gagne won a Cy Young Award.