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Springtime Storylines: How long until new ownership puts the magic back in the Los Angeles Dodgers?

Mar 30, 2012, 11:33 AM EDT

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: How long until new ownership brings back the magic?

Sorry. That was kind of hacky, wasn’t it?  Oh well. I coulda gone with “Showtime,” and I didn’t so consider yourself lucky.

But our hackiness can be forgiven, can it not?  These are heady times for the Dodgers. Frank McCourt’s reign of terror is about to end and in comes the most beloved figure in L.A. sports this side of Vin Scully. And what’s more, Magic Johnson is accompanied by serious money in the form of Guggenheim Partners, and real baseball brains in Stan Kasten.  That stuff has led to a zillion headlines this week, but how long until that translates to success on the field?

Maybe sooner than you think. Here was Magic Johnson early Wednesday morning, when asked if the new ownership group was going to approach things like the Yankees do:

“It’s not just the Yankees. The Angels invested a lot of money into Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. You see what the Tigers just did with Prince Fielder. Teams are investing. That’s what you do when you put a winning team on the field. We’re not going to be any different from those teams.”

Cole Hamles is available next year. So is Matt Cain. So is Josh Hamilton. In not too long Joey Votto will hit the market.  There’s no reason to think that the Dodgers aren’t going to be in on that business.  And if they are, they could start winning a lot of baseball games here pretty soon.

What else is going on?

  • None of that is this year, though. For this year it’s their Cy Young pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, their MVP-caliber center fielder Matt Kemp and … a whole lot of blah. Or, as Jonah Keri put it so succinctly: “2012 could bring the Dodgers another Cy Young, an MVP award, and the league lead for crummy, overpaid starters named Juan.”
  • Dee Gordon is about as exciting as it comes. He hit .304 with a .325 on-base percentage and stole 24 bases in only 56 games.  He may be trouble for the Dodgers at the top of the order given how batting average-heavy that OBP is, but when he does get on base, watch out.
  • Otherwise this is a pretty weak lineup. Outside of Kemp there are very few power threats and the one guy who could maybe turn into one one day — Jerry Sands — was just sent down to the minors. For this lineup to be any kind of respectable, the Dodgers need Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Rivera all to remember what they were like when they used to be something. That’s a tall order.
  • Kershaw is less of a lone solider in the rotation, as Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang all look solid. Not spectacular or anything, but solid.

So how are they gonna do?

Not that great. I really don’t like anyone in this lineup not named Matt Kemp.  The cupboard is basically bare here, as the minor league system atrophied under McCourt and Ned Colletti simply doesn’t appear to know how to assemble useful spare parts.  All of that is a recipe for mediocrity at best.  Even if there is excitement on the horizon.

  1. dodger88 - Mar 30, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    Thanks to the weaknesses of the other NL West teams, I like the chance for the Dodgers to contend as it may take less than 90 wins to take the division. I agree that most of the improvement will come next winter and beyond, the team should be players at the trade deadline if their record justifies. Of course, with the added wild card entrants, we may find fewer sellers come July but at least the Dodgers should be in a position to take on some contracts if available.

  2. davidpom50 - Mar 30, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    I think it’s worth pointing out that in 18 spring games this year, Dee Gordon has exactly 1 less walk than he had in 56 MLB games last season. He stopped hacking quite so much last September (71% of his BBs came in the last month) and that seems to have carried over to spring. He’ll also have a high BABIP, since he has the ability to beat out a cleanly fielded ground ball to the shortstop.

  3. Gamera the Brave - Mar 30, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    I look forward to a couple of years down the road, when the Dodgers and Giants duke it out in September for the NL West pennant. As it should be.

    But, sorry Dodger fans – this year you’re an 80-win team at best. Be patient – it takes time to rebuild both a full roster and a farm system. I think 80 wins this year, and if all goes well, 88-90 in 2014. I think the Trolley Dodgers will be very competitive in a couple of years.

    • davidpom50 - Mar 30, 2012 at 1:04 PM

      a .500ish record is probably about right. BUT the Dodgers only need a few things to go right to get closer to 85-88 wins this year:
      1) As I mentioned, there’s reason to have hope that Gordon can get on base at a high clip. If he does – watch out, those wheels are crazy.
      2) Andre Ethier needs to return to 2008-2009 form. Fangraphs has an article this morning on why there’s hope for that: http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/index.php/andre-ethier-is-going-to-have-a-huge-season/
      3) James Loney needs to live up to the potential of his picture-perfect swing. He changed his approach in the second half of last year and pulled the ball to right field more often. That lead to an OPS north of .900. More on that: http://www.chadmoriyama.com/2011/09/james-loneys-late-surge-regression-to-the-mean-or-legitimate-growth/
      4) The Dodgers’ rotation is decent as is, but if Rubby De La Rosa comes back strong from Tommy John surgery, that would be a huge boost. He’s due back sometime after the all-star break.

    • gogigantos - Mar 30, 2012 at 2:10 PM

      absolutely right
      in a just universe it comes down to a blood match tween the north and south of CA,, Giants vs. Fodgers is what it is allllll about

  4. wj4122 - Mar 30, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Love the trolley dodgers reference!! Yes it will take a couple years but they are going to be big spenders sooner rather later…let’s just hope they are smart moves !! I’m excited for the ballpark atmosphere to improve! We will see a complete transformation starting next year.

  5. gogigantos - Mar 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    Duck the freakin Fodgers!!!!!!!!!!!!
    check Sleepy Floyd for just one night of glory and know how MANY feel about the Ducking Fodgers
    Congrats to the game and humans everywhere for the ridding of McParkingLot
    but still,, J.Rosenburg had it right
    ducking fodgers

    sign Matt Cain NOW!!!!

  6. natstowngreg - Mar 30, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    All well and good to say you;re going to spend a lot on free agents. MLB teams, regardless of how much they spend on MLB players, need good farm systems, which takes patience. Stan Kasten should be a good tutor for Magic on how you build a baseball organization. Very different from building a basketball organization.

  7. mikeincmn - Mar 30, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    I’m curious how far into the season Colleti lasts. I would think the new ownership, especially Kasten would want to put his own people in place and considering Ned had done plenty to justify being fired I’m curious if they wait out the season to make changes or start mid summer.

  8. lostsok - Mar 30, 2012 at 10:36 PM

    There is an unanswerable question when it comes to LA: will there be a player (or two) at the deadline that might be a difference maker? A bad first half for the Mets could put David Wright on the market; if healthy, he could improve the lineup immensley.

    • Big Ed Robles - Mar 31, 2012 at 3:10 AM

      I certainly hope they don’t trade at the deadline unless someone wants to take Uribe (not likely). Even if they’re in contention for the NL West, there is no way this team makes it to the WS.

  9. Big Ed Robles - Mar 31, 2012 at 3:11 AM

    I would love to see this rotation in 2014:

    Kershaw
    Cain
    Zach Lee
    Billingsley
    Allen Webster

    It would be a young crew, but, dang, that would be pretty.

    • davidpom50 - Apr 2, 2012 at 12:12 PM

      No love for Rubby De La Rosa?

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