Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

LA Dodgers 
2012: 86-76 (2nd Place, NL West)
Full Count Prediction: (2nd Place NL West) 

If there was a such thing as a "roller-coaster" type season, the 2012 Dodgers had it.  From the beginning, it started rough both on and off the field.  A turbulent off-season eventually saw owner Frank McCourt hand over the reins to a management group led by Magic Johnson among others.

After the change, the Dodgers were able to ride strong starting pitching in the second half, along with major reinforcements via a blockbuster deal with Boston to acquire SP Josh Beckett, 1B Adrian Gonzalez and OF Carl Crawford.  Still, the Dodgers were unable to catch the Giants.  Really, no one caught the Giants as they ended up winning everything so you can't really say the Dodgers had a bad season in 2012.

Then the off-season came.  Buoyed by a Time Warner television contract worth Department of Defense-type money, the Dodgers promptly signed the most coveted pitcher of the 2013 free agent crop, Zack Greinke to the richest contract for a right handed ever ($147 million, to be exact).  But why stop there?  LA went on to sign Korean phenom Hyun-Jin Ryu at $6 million a pop and closer Brandon League for $22.5 million (three years).  And just to top it off, they grabbed J.P. Howell for a couple million too.  Add those to the existing contracts from Boston last trade deadline and their payroll in the NL West promptly went like this:

Yep.  The Los Angeles Dodgers now have the highest payroll in baseball.   In order to become the Yankees of the National League, however, the Dodgers will have to hope that all these stars can mesh well and keep it together all season...something that's a big "if."  And their fans will have to act a little more spoiled/childish.  But I digress.  

On paper, this looks like a team that can easily clinch a Division title and make a deep October run.  Talent doesn't necessarily translate to success.  Let's take a deeper dive into what $220 million dollars can buy in our Los Angeles Dodgers preview:


They say there's no such thing as "too much starting pitching" but in this case, the Dodgers are in spring training pushing that old adage to the limit.  There are eight starting pitcher on the current 40-man roster.  While perennial Cy Young candidate/superstud Clayton Kershaw and Greinke will anchor the staff, what follows is still up in the air.  If Josh Beckett can stay healthy, (which is a giant "if") he could give LA a 1-2-3 rotation that would scare any lineup in the National League.  

Outside of Korean newcomer, Hyun-Jin Ryu, the candidate to take the 5th spot in the rotation will come down to Chad Billingsley, Chris Caupano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly.  Billingsley probably has the inside track, but regardless of who rounds out the rotation will either be shipped off in a trade, or be stashed in the "long relief" section of the bullpen, just in case, because really who believes that Josh Beckett will stay healthy all season?  

Anyone?  Anyone at all?  That's probably what GM Ned Colletti thinks too.  

Speaking of the bullpen, this unit has the stuff to shut the door the last few innings of any given ballgame.  But there are also question marks.  Matt Guerrier and J.P. Howell will make reliable situational guys out of the bullpen while one of the banished starters out of spring training will join them in long relief.  Kenley Jansen is a big, intimidating guy with some big pitches and strikes out everybody.  Jansen saved 25 games last year, so expect him to be first on the phone if Brandon League ever/possibly/probably/certainly/ (<==== circle your preference based on your level of dislike for the Dodgers) falters in the closer's role early on.  


This lineup has the star power to leave Vin Scully drooling at every batting practice.  But they also have just as many question marks as the starting pitching.  If there's a word to summarize the primary factor to this team's success at the plate, it's "health."  Matt Kemp is one of the best in the game when he's feeling good and wants to focus on mashing baseballs instead of dating Rihanna.  But injuries limited him to only 106 games last season. 

And who the hell knows how Carl Crawford will do after Tommy John surgery prevented him from ever suiting up as a Dodger in 2012. Mark and A.J. Ellis (no relation) will do their best to fill roles as steady, veterans in positions with more priority for the glove than at the plate, second base and catcher, respectively.  Andre Ethier is slowly but surely starting finding out how to become a complete player and is showing enough star promise to get a new contract.  However, he'll have to figure out how to hit against lefties or manager Don Mattingly will have some interesting late game, lineup scenario's ahead.  

Adrian Gonzalez is a big name, with a big bat but experienced a mysterious power outage with 18 total home runs, a year after mashing 45 with the Red Sox.  Even if he still can't get his power problem figured out, he'd still be less baffling than Hanley Ramirez who has the tools and skill to make the game of baseball look easy but instead, has spent his time as a Dodger making the game of fantasy baseball look hard for his unfortunate owners.  


The Dodgers have a ton of talent, but just as many question marks heading into 2013.  But just because Los Angeles is a town with plenty stars, the Dodgers will have to do more than simply field a team of stars to win in a division with the defending baseball champs up by the Bay and a suddenly scrappy and improved Diamondbacks.  Guys like Crawford, Beckett, Ramirez, and Gonzalez should be enough to beat up on the Padres and the Rockies but in order to win the West and make a deep October run, favorable answers are needed for the following questions:

1. Can Kemp and Crawford stay healthy?
2. Can Josh Beckett stay healthy?
3. Can they still be effective when healthy? 
3. Will Adrian Gonzalez find his power stroke back in a pitchers park?
4. Is Hanley Ramirez ever going to be the star that he was with the Marlins?
5. Is Greinke's anxiety issues something to worry about?
6. What part(s) of Hyun-Jin Ryu's name will be on the back of his jersey?
7. Can he also be good?
8. Will Brandon League live up to his massive contract by becoming a dominant closer?
9. If he can't can Kenley Jensen?
10. Who will be starter number five?
11. What will happen to the three pitchers that aren't gonna be starter number five?
12. Will Matt Kemp still be in the home run derby?
13. Is Magic Johnson really a baseball fan?
14. Why is Juan Uribe still on the roster?

15. Will it be Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto or Jerry Hairston Jr as Mr. Utilityman?  
16. Why did Don Mattingly shave his mustache as a manager?
17. Why are the Dodgers aspiring to be like the freakin' Yankees with their spending?
18. Can a team of super stars mesh well together?  

If all of these questions can be answered with positive results for the Dodgers, there's no reason this team can't be the team hoisting a World Series trophy in October.  But...


The worst case scenario would pretty much be negative answers to all the same questions above.  


As our recurring theme, this team is a club with a lot of questions but the answers will be revealed as the season progresses quickly.  If Matt Kemp stays healthy and focused, this team will score runs -- he's just that good.  Regardless of what mysteries like Gonzalez and Ramirez do, this is a squad that will probably be streaky....but when they're hot, they'll put up runs in bunches.  

The pitching also rests on the star arms of Kershaw and Greinke and the health and consistency of the rest of the staff.  Beckett and Billingsley will likely have at least one DL stint between them but it's not like there aren't arms to fill in should either or both falter or get hurt.  Brandon League is no Mariano Rivera but he's solid and Jensen can always step in to close out games. 

It would be a major stretch to expect the best for all of the questions this team needs to answer but if they can fulfill more than half to the likings of Dodger nation, it should be enough to give San Fran a serious run for the NL West crown and just might steal some Hollywood spotlight from their just as star-studded neighbors in Anaheim.   


Dee Gordon is fast as a gazelle on the basepaths but with savvy veterans like Schumaker, Punto and Hairston Jr. fighting for a spot on the same dugout bench, Gordon will have to prove that he can do more than steal bases if he wants a spot on this crowded Dodger roster.  He can be electric and fun when he wants to and if a spot on a major league ballclub is on the line, he'll definitely try to make sparks in spring training or flame out trying.  


Matt Kemp is a star on the diamond and online with more than 272,000 followers.  In addition to tweeting about his outlook on the Dodgers, baseball and current events.  You know, that stuff everyone has to tweet about.  Give him a follow at @TheRealMattKemp.



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