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2013 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Mar 16, 2013, 11:28 AM EDT

Don Mattingly Reuters Reuters

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 2013 season. Up next: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: Will the big spending lead the Dodgers back to the postseason?

It’s a new world in MLB and the Dodgers are playing by their own rules. While the mighty Yankees are making plans to get under the luxury tax threshold, that’s not a concern for the new ownership group in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are projected to have a payroll around $225 million this season, the highest in major league history. Having a new $7 billion cable deal helps.

After adding big names like Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in trades last season, the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract over the winter and committed $61.7 million to sign Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. But for all the spending, the Dodgers still have their fair share of questions.

After ranking 26th in runs scored last season, the offense should be better, but by how much? Matt Kemp is coming off shoulder surgery while Crawford is still rehabbing his elbow following Tommy John surgery. Adrian Gonzalez is healthy by all accounts, but he hasn’t shown much power since his shoulder surgery two offseasons ago. Luis Cruz has a lot to prove after playing well in a small sample last year. And yes, Andre Ethier still can’t hit lefties.

Clayton Kershaw is arguably the game’s best starting pitcher, ranking second in the majors in ERA and first in WHIP and strikeouts over the past two seasons. Greinke’s upside is obvious, but it looks like he’ll get a late start to the season following a sore elbow. Beckett had better results after coming over from the Red Sox last season and should benefit with a full season in the easier league. However, things get a little dicey after that. Ryu is an unknown quantity and hasn’t been overly impressive this spring. The Dodgers are hoping that the ulnar collateral ligament in Chad Billingsley‘s elbow will hold up, but they have Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly in reserve in case things go awry.

It’s easy to envision a scenario where the Dodgers run away with things in the National League West, but like with any team, there are also ways that things could go wrong here. Injuries. Underperformance. It happens. This is baseball. Still, the pressure will be on after they came up short last year. If the Dodgers aren’t playing in October, manager Don Mattingly will likely be out of a job.

What else is going on? 

  • The Dodgers’ spending hasn’t been exclusive to the talent on the field. They have also directed roughly $100 million in improvements to Dodger Stadium, including the return of hexagonal scoreboards, upgrades to the sound system, bathrooms, and concourses, the construction of a new clubhouse for players and bullpen overlooks which will create standing-room views for the game. Much-needed upgrades for a stadium which is now the third oldest in the majors behind Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
  • Can Luis Cruz keep the starting third base job? There’s reason to be skeptical. After hitting just .261/.296/.394 over 12 seasons in the minor leagues, the 29-year-old delivered a surprising .297/.332/.431 batting line in 78 games with the Dodgers last season. The crash back to Earth could be ugly. Moving Hanley Ramirez back to third base (where he likely belongs) could give Dee Gordon another chance at shortstop, but the young speedster still carries plenty of questions of his own.
  • After posting a 2.30 ERA in 28 appearances after coming over from the Mariners last July, Brandon League was retained this winter on a three-year, $22.5 million deal and is expected to open the season as the Dodgers’ closer. The contract is questionable enough, but Kenley Jansen is the best pitcher in this bullpen if healthy. The contract probably gives League some job security out of the gate, but with the Dodgers determined to win now, don’t be surprised if there’s a change at some point.
  • With all the money flying out the door, when will Kershaw get his piece of the pie? The soon-to-be 25-year-old is under team control through 2014, but there is mutual interest in getting a long-term extension done. He remains the best bet to be the game’s first $200 million pitcher.
  • Vin Scully, 85, is set to begin his 64th season of announcing Dodgers games. Enjoy it.

Prediction: It should be a close race with the Giants, but I have the Dodgers in second place in the NL West. They will secure one of the two Wild Card spots, though.

  1. Old Gator - Mar 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    May I humbly suggest that if you’re headed for the game, get off I-5 at the Glendale/Hyperion exit, go one block west and stop in at Burrito King at the corner of Hyperion and Rowena. Make sure you pry your quesadilla open and shovel in some of the little hot pickles from the yummy yummy bar at the back of the place (which ain’t very big). The burritos are as good as they ever get; the chorizo burrito will roll your eyes up in your head. It’s cheap, fresh and the cheese is always gooey. Wrap some up and take some with you – it’ll cast you about seventy percent less than the stuff at the stadium.

    Oh, and see if they’ve got an extra Burrito King hat. This will also cost you about one tenth of the cost of a Dodgers cap at the stadium.

    And finally, if you’re really an obsessive Bums fan, you need to get one of these:http://www.aircraftresourcecenter.com/Fea1/901-1000/Fea922_Electra_Shapiro/00.shtm

    • escapingexile - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      I am now thoroughly impressed. I must admit, I normally find your commentary both informed and amusing. However, I wasn’t aware that your local knowledge extended beyond the Macondo Banana Massacre Field. Kudos to you, sir. Well done.

      • stex52 - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:13 PM

        You need a broader sample of the Gator. If it involves ethnic food and is in the continental U.S. area, he can give you a good feel for the best options.

    • jimeejohnson - Mar 16, 2013 at 1:08 PM

      Burritos: Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

    • bigharold - Mar 16, 2013 at 2:19 PM

      ” .. cheap, fresh and the cheese is always gooey.”

      Sounds like some dates I had back in the 70s.

    • moogro - Mar 16, 2013 at 2:33 PM

      Locals are split on which Burrito King is the best. Closer to the stadium to the west is the Burrito King on Sunset and Alvarado. They’ve got the yummy hot pickles, chorizo, and and an exquisite a pastor burrito. Or if prefer mexican-mexican to white-mexican, hit the legendary Tacozone taco truck parked evenings a block north on Alvarado between Reservoir and Montana in front of the Vons grocery store. The tacos, burritos and fresh salsas are amazing. Besides, the Elysian Park exit is the best traffic route after the game.

      • Old Gator - Mar 16, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        Depends on where you’re coming from, I guess. The advantage to the Hyperion Burrito King is that it’s ten seconds west of I-5. I never ate at at the Sunset and Alvarado location, but there used to be one in Anaheim – long long gone, I’m afraid – that we’d go to after spending time at Disneyland. As I recall, the food at all the locations was about the same – wonderful. Must try that truck out next time I get to Tinseltown, though.

        Another place I loved was Senor Frog on the south side of Marina del Rey, not the current franchised cantina knockoff but a little place on Vista Del Mar just before it curves to the east and becomes Culver. Their wet jumbo burrito was…well…obscene. But I fear that place too is long gone.

    • cowboysoldiertx - Mar 16, 2013 at 2:42 PM

      What about tips for the DFW area of Texas? Know any place that I don’t?

    • Gamera the Brave - Mar 16, 2013 at 2:49 PM

      As a lifelong Gigantes fan, I must confess to a brief stint in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, wherein I further confess to enjoying Dodger Dogs. Way less overpriced in the late 80′s…

      A great place to see a Giants/Dodgers tilt, and safe back then.

    • wtfruthinkn - Mar 25, 2013 at 4:17 PM

      Burrito King is gone dude. It’s a different mexican food joint now, about one tenth as good as BK…

  2. vcarterrc2cs - Mar 16, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    We will see if the pitching from the 3, 4, and 5 slots hold up.
    The other big question is how will Gonzalez and Crawford bounce back? In Crawford’s case when if he can bounce back? $$$ don’t always mean W’s but I hope Big Blue can do damage this year.

  3. aceshigh11 - Mar 16, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    I can easily see this team massively under-performing and crashing like the 2011 Sox did.

    There are no sure bets in MLB…a lot of talent but a lot of questions. I don’t know if this team has the right chemistry.

    • manchestermiracle - Mar 17, 2013 at 3:56 AM

      With all the new additions nobody knows what the chemistry will be until they play.

  4. vegagreenleaf - Mar 16, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    “I can easily see this team massively under-performing and crashing like the 2011 Sox did.”

    Of course you can. This team IS the 2011 Red Sox….

    • aceshigh11 - Mar 16, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      HA!

      Well yeah…there IS that. As a Red Sox fan, I have very little respect left for Gonzalez, Crawford and ESPECIALLY Beckett.

      They’re three very talented but mercurial headcase.

      But aside from them, I see the same lack of chemistry, unfortunate personalities, and over-reliance on sheer star power that sunk the ’11 Sox.

  5. buffalomafia - Mar 16, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    Dodgers are overrated!! To many big star players get hurt every year?!

  6. iamjimmyjack - Mar 16, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    Dodgers will not finish second to the giants…no way. There’s no way the giants are better than this team. Us they underperformed last year after the trades, but this is a diff year. Talent almost always wins out, and the dodgers are hands down the most talented team in the division, second in the NL only to the nationals. Angels vs dodgers World Series. Everyone knows it. Print the tickets and save my parking spot.

    • wearethechamps12 - Mar 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM

      Actually there is a way the Giants are better…they just won the freakin World Series.

  7. manchestermiracle - Mar 17, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    My biggest hope is that Dodger fans don’t get ahead of themselves and make outrageous boasts like Laker fans did. Oh, wait, too late.

  8. wtfruthinkn - Mar 25, 2013 at 9:26 PM

    This team reminds me a little of the 1999 Dodgers with new big-spending owners and lots of hype. Back then they had plenty of big bats (even after they traded away Mike Piazza the year before), 1 solid starter, 3 so-so starters, no # 5, big questions on the bench and in the bullpen, although Jeff Shaw was the hands-down closer back then and this year it’s up for grabs. A couple of other differences are the new owners keeping the manager & GM in place this time (no Kevin “new sherriff in town” Malone this time, thank God), and the ’99 team had literally no team chemistry to the point that they were 20 games under .500 before the All-Star break and were never in the race. That team went 77-85 and finished 23 games behind Arizona. Hopefully this year’s team doesn’t grossly underachieve so badly…

  9. ilovegspot - Mar 28, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    Craig doesn’t consider that the Dodgers aren’t done spending this year. They can take on more payroll at the trade deadline if necessary. They have Puig too. They could still easily improve this team if they want. Haven’t they shown that already??
    Look out giants. They are coming after you.

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