Los Angeles Dodgers Team Preview
Is it really a surprise that Zack Greinke admitted he signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason because of the heaps of money that were thrown his way?
The cash, $147 million over six years, was just as enticing as the vaunted lineup the Dodgers could possibly roll out in 2013. Greinke hopes to be a part of something special with a roster laden with talent from the pitching staff down to the coaches.
Pitching is arguably the most important area for any ballclub and by signing Greinke this offseason, the Dodgers have proven they're ready to take it to the next level. Los Angeles is already doing that by the checks the new ownership group has written out. Signing Greinke, the AL's 2009 Cy Young Award winner, to join Clayton Kershaw, the NL's 2011 Cy Young Award recipient, has put the Dodgers in the driver's seat for an NL West title. The San Francisco Giants, of course, would argue that and have two World Series rings in the lost three years.
Greinke, though, will likely start the year on the disabled list as he continues to recover from elbow inflammation.
A few players on the Giants have already questioned chemistry issues with the Dodgers for their recent deals and spending sprees. And rightfully so. Who knows how the season will turn out for an L.A. team stacked with a bevy of both pitchers and hitters? Injuries will take their toll on any club, especially ones that lack depth. That could be an issue for the Dodgers.
Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp had a few words on those who doubt chemistry.
"I'm not worried about our chemistry. I keep hearing we don't have any. I can tell our chemistry will be good," Kemp said. "We built it at the end of the year, so I don't care what people say or how they feel. We have a great team. We have pitching, we have hitting, we have defense. We have it all. There's going to be no excuse if we do lose. If everybody does his job, we'll be successful, and I don't care what anybody says about us."
Obviously, what people are saying and what actually unfolds could be two separate entities. Kemp is expected to take on more of a leadership role and staying healthy should be his main concern. Plagued by injuries last season, Kemp, who underwent shoulder surgery in October, feels he will be ready for the long haul this season. He gained weight rehabbing his shoulder, but has since trimmed down for spring training and the upcoming campaign.
The Dodgers don't need Kemp to steal bases; they have Dee Gordon and Tony Gwynn Jr. to do that. But Kemp will lead a band of heavy hitters that when healthy includes Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford.
As good as Los Angeles can be, there are some injury concerns in the lineup. Crawford is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and is questionable for the start of the season, while Ramirez will miss the first two months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb following an injury at the World Baseball Classic.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Dodgers, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
WILL CHEMISTRY BE AN ISSUE FOR THE DODGERS?
|Dodgers Projected Lineup|
|(86-76) - Second Place (NL West)|
|Key Offseason additions|
|RHP Zack Greinke, LHP J.P. Howell, 2B/OF Skip Schumaker|
|Key Offseason subtractions|
|OF Shane Victorino; 1B/OF Jerry Sands; 1B/OF Juan Rivera; OF Bobby Abreu; RHP Joe Blanton; RHP Rubby De La Rosa; RHP John Ely|
Having a large payroll usually ups the ante for a team to succeed. The Dodgers are a perfect example of that. Many sports teams go on spending sprees and the results can go either way.
The New York Yankees never had a problem jelling despite the wads of cash given to their players. Will it be the same for the Dodgers in 2013?
"Chemistry comes from playing with one another," Kemp said. "You don't have to like everybody if everybody has one common goal of winning games. Just stick together and we'll be fine. If you win, chemistry will be there and everybody will like each other."
As far as the sluggers go for Los Angeles, Kemp and Ethier are used to playing full seasons together with a mix of free agents or acquisitions sprinkled in. Last year's midseason additions of Gonzalez, Ramirez and Crawford didn't really get a chance to come together in their new digs. So a full offseason and spring training has the west coast abuzz about their Dodgers, who haven't reached the postseason since losing back-to-back NLCS in 2008-09.
"I'm not burying my head in the sand. I know people expect us to win, basically," said manager Don Mattingly, who's in the last year of his contract. "We're in a division with the team that's won the world championship two of the last three years. Arizona has a good club, San Diego is good and Colorado has the chance to be good.
"All the expectations are just noise to me and the club, that we should win the Series and all that. My job and my staff's job is to prepare the club to play the best it possibly can, and I can't worry about the noise. The job doesn't change."
WHAT WILL L.A. DO WITH ITS SURPLUS OF STARTING PITCHERS?
To say the Dodgers have depth in their rotation is an understatement. Save Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the rest of the staff is unknown.
Kershaw is a bona fide star and Cy Young candidate, while Greinke is perhaps just a tier under the left-hander. So who fills out the rest of the rotation? Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly may have to play a round of H.O.R.S.E. to decide who gets a spot, or the Dodgers will send some to the bullpen and trade others.
The Dodgers committed $62 million for Korean hurler Hyun-Jin Ryu. He could land in the No. 3 or 4 spot in the rotation. Mattingly said Harang "doesn't seem like the kind of guy that pitches out of the 'pen, to me", so that could mean the right-hander may be on the trade block.
"It's set up to be competitive," Mattingly said. "If we've got eight guys healthy, we've got tough decisions to make. "Once spring training is over and if they're not on our roster, we don't have any control anymore. So eight really turns into five."
If the Dodgers send some of those starters into the bullpen, then they'll have one of the more impressive relief staffs in the majors. They would join the likes of closer Brandon League, setup men Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario, among others.
CAN CRAWFORD REVERT BACK TO HIS DOMINANT WAYS?
Whether it's safe for Crawford to visit a Boston diner remains to be seen, but the expectations of the veteran left fielder are once again high in Tinseltown. Much like his dominant days in Tampa Bay which led to a megadeal with the Red Sox, Crawford is starting fresh in a new town.
Crawford's tenure in Boston was short and fizzled faster than a Roger Clemens fastball. Injuries and a lack of production at the plate ended his Beantown tenure in a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers. Crawford, a four-time All-Star with the Rays, was once a five-tool phenom and came to Los Angeles last August with Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto for James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus Jr., and Allen Webster.
Crawford had an outstanding season in 2010, his last with Tampa Bay, hitting .307 and setting career highs with 19 home runs, 90 runs batted in and 110 runs scored. His eight four-hit games were also a major-league best. He then appeared in 130 games with the Red Sox in 2011 and batted .255 with 11 homers and 56 RBI. Last season, Crawford saw action in a career-low 31 games and had just three homers and 19 runs batted in.
"I felt like he's really excited and can't wait to get going and get back on the field," Mattingly said of Crawford in January. "It's been like two years that he's really been healthy. He's ready to put the whole Boston thing behind him. He feels like just moving forward and just playing."
X-FACTOR: ROLE PLAYERS: A strong rotation? Check. Sluggers in the lineup? Check. A formidable bullpen? Check. But what happens if some players go down because of injury? The Dodgers aren't fretting and believe they have enough talent around the diamond and off the bench. These players may not garner as much attention as the likes of Kemp, Ethier or Gonzalez, but Mark Ellis, Luis Cruz, A.J. Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto are names Mattingly will go to often in the time of need. Of course, no manager wants to see his star players injured and must rely on reserves when players need rest. And sometimes that occurs when games need to be won.
With a payroll more than $200 million, general manager Ned Colletti pulling strings with a permanent smile and the cash cows that are Magic Johnson and the Guggenheim Partners, this could finally be the year the Dodgers reach the World Series. The exorbitant costs of talent will only pay off if the players can come together as a team and finally overthrow the Giants in the NL West. Let's be honest: the NL West will come down to a two-horse race. Anything less than an NL pennant for Los Angeles will be a major disappointment. L.A. started hot in 2012 until injuries reared their ugly head. Kemp suffered the biggest bite and an MVP-type season this time around isn't far-fetched. Hitting and pitching are L.A.'s strengths. Will it last an entire 162-game schedule? The tremendous odds are in the Dodgers' favor.
- By Shawn Clarke, Contributing MLB Editor