This is the most exciting time of the year for baseball fans. MLB’s spring training is underway, and every team is undefeated.
For Pete’s sake, even Cubs fans have a reason to hope this season will be different when every team has an unblemished regular-season record!
For the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers, there are still some issues to be determined, namely who will own the team. What will this year hold for the boys in blue? Is the National League West going to sport another different division champion this season?
Here is what we can expect from the Dodgers this season in the field and at the plate:
Catcher – Save for two years of promise from Russell Martin in 2006-07, the spot behind the plate at Chavez Ravine has been a black hole of garbage since the Mike Piazza days. Former Dodger catcher Steve Yeager has come back to help work with the team’s catchers, which is a plus. However, a full season of A.J. Ellis makes me yawn more than a ticket to a Broadway musical. Ellis has always been a backup for the Dodgers … because he is a backup catcher! If Ellis can throw out some runners this season, then I guess I can live with 10 homers and 50 RBIs. Matt Treanor has a hot, beach-volleyball wife, but that’s about all he has going for him. Tim Federowicz has an awesome porn-star mustache, but he will start the season at triple-A. He may be called up if Ellis struggles. The Dodgers also added Josh Bard to the catching scrap-heap. Trying to figure Bard into the catching equation just makes my head hurt, so I’m not even gonna do it.
First base – We’ve got one more year of James Loney, which doesn’t exactly have me doing cartwheels. Loney is a great defender, as is evidenced by his .996 fielding percentage in 2011. He also came on strong over the last two months of the 2011 season to bring his numbers up to a respectable mark – 12 homers, 65 RBIs and a .288 average. With Loney, we’re going to get 10-15 homers, 70-plus RBIs and a .280-type average. I can live with that for another season.
Second base – Mark Ellis is here to save the day for the Dodgers in 2012! Am I the only person who cringes at the thought of that statement? Ellis is a good defender with not much of a bat. Out of Ellis, the Dodgers are going to get five homers, 40 RBIs and a .270 to .300 average. Forgive me if I curl up in the fetal position and long for a second baseman with a bat. We already had that kind of production from Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles. Justin Sellers is trying to break through at this position, and he may make the roster to back up Ellis.
Shortstop – This is the first position I’ve come to that gets me excited for 2012. I can’t wait to see what Dee Gordon does for the Dodgers over a full season. The kid can run, can get to any ball and will put the ball in play. We know Gordon will be lucky to hit one homer this year if the wind is blowing out in an afternoon game at Wrigley Field, but that’s okay. Gordon gives the Dodgers their first legitimate leadoff hitter since … Brett Butler? All you Juan Pierre fans can just keep quiet! I see Gordon hitting around .300 with 40-plus stolen bases.
Third base – Some people give up soft drinks or alcohol for Lent. This year, I have given up making any “fat” references to Juan Uribe during Lent. Man, it’s going to be a long month trying to live up to that promise! Uribe is supposedly healthy this season, and management isn’t concerned about his portliness. If Uribe can stay healthy all season (and if you will buy my oceanfront property in Kansas!), then maybe we’ll see the player from 2010 instead of the one we watched miss most of last season. A healthy Uribe might give us 20 homers and 75 RBIs, but he also might give us 10 homers and 50 RBIs. Oh, and Uribe will also strike out a lot. Thanks for this, Ned! I think it’s a safer bet to assume that we’ll see a platoon at third base between Uribe, Jerry Hairston and possibly Adam Kennedy.
Left field, a.k.a., The Revolving Door – There used to be a game show called “To Tell The Truth” where two of three contestants would lie to judges in an effort to trick them. At the end of the show, the host would utter the question, “Will the real _____ please stand up?” Will the real left fielder for the Dodgers please stand up? That could be a new game show at Chavez Ravine. Will it be Jerry Sands? Will it be Juan Rivera? Will it be Tony Gwynn, Jr? This position should involve a spring training battle between Rivera and Sands. Gwynn will get his time here as a late-inning replacement, but this battle is Rivera versus Sands. No matter who gets the bulk of the time in left, this is a weak area for the Dodgers.
Center field – After locking up center fielder Matt Kemp this off-season, this is one area that isn’t an issue. Kemp is one of the elite players in MLB, and the Dodgers can only hope that he builds on his monstrous 2011 numbers – 39 homers, 126 RBIs, .324 average and 40 stolen bases. It’s difficult to think that Kemp can better that production, but whatever happens, the Dodgers are set in center for many years to come.
Right field – If the Dodgers get the Andre Ethier from 2008-10, things will be great in Los Angeles. During those three seasons, Ethier averaged 25 homers and 88 RBIs. In 2011, though, Ethier struggled with 11 homers and 62 RBIs. Ethier is supposed to be healed from his knee injuries of last season. While he hasn’t been signed to an extension, a healthy Ethier should still be capable of 25 homers and 80 to 100 RBIs.
So, on the bright side, the 2012 Dodgers have four positions that are filled with promise. On the downside, there are four areas that need significant improvement. Put whatever spin on that you want, but in my book, it means a team that can make other plans for October rather than playing baseball.