Los Angeles Dodgers preview: Deep pockets deliver division title
To put last season into context for the Los Angeles Dodgers, we need to consider two main areas. The first is Matt Kemp. After a monster 2011 season, he proclaimed himself as the first ever 50-50 man in baseball. Following a hot start in 2012, a nagging hamstring injury cost him nearly two months, and a shoulder injury made him ineffective down the stretch. The second is money. Thanks to new ownership and a new television deal worth just north of $7 billion, the Los Angeles Dodgers have no spending limits moving forward. It’s safe to say they have become the New York Yankees West.
Despite missing the playoffs last year, not much needed to be done in the offseason — thanks primarily to a midseason trade that delivered Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto from the Red Sox for prospects. From 2013 on, these four are guaranteed a ridiculous $262.5 million. But since money is no longer an issue, the Los Angeles Dodgers decided to sign Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal. That is the third-highest contract for a pitcher in MLB history. The Dodgers also signed Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu, J.P. Howell, re-signed Brandon League (who also joined the team at last season’s trade deadline) and traded for veteran utility man Skip Schumaker.
Los Angeles Dodgers position players
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a deep lineup, but everything rides on the shoulders of Kemp. At full strength, he is as good as anyone in baseball, but hamstrings are one of those nagging injuries that pop up at any time. He also is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. To complement Kemp, the Dodgers hope Gonzalez can regain the power we have seen him display over the course of his career. From 2007-2011 he averaged 33 home runs. Last season he only hit 18. Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez both had decent years in 2012 but have shown in the past they are capable of more.
The middle of the order is pretty much set, but everywhere else is impossible to predict. Crawford is penciled in to be the leadoff hitter, but his recovery from elbow surgery is taking a bit longer than expected. If he isn’t ready by opening day, Schumaker will likely get the nod. Mark Ellis and Luis Cruz round out the rest of the infield and A.J. Ellis returns behind the plate. Mark Ellis was a disappointment at the plate last season and Cruz and A.J. Ellis must prove their surprise seasons weren’t flukes.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitching
The Los Angeles Dodgers rotation is even deeper than the lineup, but not everyone there is a given. You won’t find too many teams with a one-two punch quite like Clayton Kershaw and Greinke. Kershaw may be the best pitcher in the NL, and Greinke has proven he can dominate in either league. Beckett hopes he can rebound after a tough year on and off the field. Chad Billingsley has shown he fits more as a middle-of-the-rotation guy and Ryu will have an advantage against the rest of the league since no one has seen him before. If any of these players falter, the Dodgers still have Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly on the roster.
There are two standout arms at the back end of the bullpen, and each player is looking to make his case to be the Los Angeles Dodgers closer. League struggled in that role for Seattle last season but converted all six save opportunities in Los Angeles after Kenley Jansen got hurt. Jansen had a spectacular season, posting a 2.35 ERA while striking out 99 batters in 65 innings. Behind those two, the Dodgers bullpen also features Ronald Belisario, Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier and Howell. With Howell as the only lefty in the pen, Capuano could be placed in the bullpen, too.
Los Angeles Dodgers projected lineup
- Carl Crawford LF
- Mark Ellis 2B
- Matt Kemp CF
- Adrian Gonzalez 1B
- Hanley Ramirez SS
- Andre Ethier RF
- A.J. Ellis C
- Luis Cruz 3B
- Clayton Kershaw P
Los Angeles Dodgers prospects to watch
The farm system ranks among the middle of the pack. The two top prospects in the organization are Yasiel Puig and Zach Lee. Puig, 22, is of the Cuban defector group, and for that reason, he gets compared to Yoenis Cespedes. He is an outfielder with power and speed, but still needs a bit more seasoning at the minor-league level. Lee, 21, is a right-hander with major-league stuff, but he didn’t play as well as many feel he can last season in the minors. Scouts see him more as a mid-rotation guy rather than a frontline starter.
Outfielder Joc Pederson was the organization’s top hitter last season while playing at class high-A. The 20-year-old has 20-20 potential and the ability to play all three outfield spots. Corey Seager is the younger brother of Mariners infielder Kyle Seager and another prospect to keep an eye on. The 18-year-old third baseman is a solid defender with bat speed to hit for both average and power. He projects as the team’s third baseman of the future.
Offense is of no concern for me with the Los Angeles Dodgers. If healthy, Kemp is my NL MVP this season. Even if Gonzalez doesn’t regain his power, he is still a .300 hitter and a run producer. My only real concern for this team is the rotation. If things don’t pan out, I am sure general manager Ned Colletti will have no problem spending house money to get manager Don Mattingly anything he needs at the trade deadline to fix it. Despite winning the World Series last year, I don’t think the San Francisco Giants are as good as they performed. And the rest of the division doesn’t quite have the talent to compete. Because of that, the Los Angeles Dodgers end their three-year playoff drought with 90-plus wins and a NL West division crown.