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2014 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

Mar 6, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT

Yasiel Puig AP

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 2014 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: Can the deep-pocketed Dodgers be stopped?

After a midseason turnaround led to 92 wins and a trip to the NLCS last year, the Dodgers had a relatively quiet offseason, at least in terms of bringing in outside talent. Sure, they locked up 2013 NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw with a monster seven-year, $215 million extension to and re-signed Juan Uribe for two years and $15 million, but their two biggest additions were right-hander Dan Haren (one year, $10 million) and Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero (four years, $28 million). While they recently signed another Cuban infielder, Erisbel Arruebarrena, to a five-year, $25 million contract, he’s not expected to contribute in the majors right away. The truth is that they didn’t need to do much in the way of tweaking, because they were already in pretty good shape.

We heard rumors over the winter about the Dodgers potentially trading one of their outfielders, but they ended up hanging on to all of them. Given the injury histories of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, that’s probably for the best. The lineup has some potential weak spots between second base, third base, and catcher, but there are plenty of impact bats here. Hanley Ramirez was one of the best hitters in the game when healthy last year and Yasiel Puig was an absolute dynamo after his call-up. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t surpassed 30 home runs since 2011, but he’s still a solid run producer.

Even though the Dodgers were unable to land Masahiro Tanaka, the rotation is looking potent once again with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu leading the way. Kenley Jansen has emerged as one of the best closers in the majors and bridge to the ninth inning should be stronger this year with full seasons from both Brian Wilson and Paco Rodriguez. Chris Withrow and J.P. Howell will be back in the bullpen and Chris Perez and Jamey Wright were both added to the fold over the winter. Oh, and Brandon League is still collecting a paycheck.

With a payroll well above $200 million, anything short of the World Series will likely be considered a disappointment. Who knows if the Dodgers can get there, as the playoffs are often a crapshoot, but all signs point to them being a forced to be reckoned with once again.

What else is going on?  

  • Matt Kemp is a big question mark as he makes his way back from ankle surgery. He was recently cleared to increase some baseball activities after an MRI showed proper healing, but he’s not expected to be ready for the start of the season and might not even make an appearance during Cactus League play. With Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier in place, the Dodgers don’t have to rush things. Still, a healthy and productive Kemp would make them even scarier.
  • The Dodgers would love for Alexander Guerrero to run away with the starting second base job, but he’s had some issues adjusting to the position and there’s some chatter that he could begin the season in the minors in order to get comfortable. However, if he keeps doing things like this, it’ll be tough to send him down. The possible alternatives at second base include Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas, and Brendan Harris, which makes the decision to let Mark Ellis walk a little questionable. The Dodgers certainly could have afforded him, even in an insurance role. He’s essentially doing the same thing for the Cardinals right now.
  • Josh Beckett was limited to just eight starts last year prior to undergoing surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, a procedure which involved having a rib removed to relieve pressure on a nerve which caused numbness in his arms and fingers. The good news is that he hasn’t had any issues this spring and projects to begin the season as the team’s No. 5 starter. The Dodgers have alternatives if things go wrong, as Paul Maholm was added over the winter for depth purposes and Chad Billingsley could be ready to return from Tommy John before the All-Star break.
  • What does Yasiel Puig have in store for an encore? With his all-out style and flair, the 23-year-old outfielder was the talk of baseball as a rookie last year, hitting .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs, 42 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 104 games. The Dodgers (and some opponents) would like to see him dial things back somewhat, but you take the good with the bat with this type of talent. Unfortunately, his style of play does put him at a greater risk for injury, which is something to watch this season.
  • Much was made of Don Mattingly’s job status last season and in the aftermath of their loss in the NLCS, but the situation should be less of a distraction now that he has received a contract extension through 2016. Of course, that could always change if the Dodgers flop.

Prediction: I could see the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Padres all competing for a Wild Card spot this season, but the Dodgers are the most well-rounded team here and they have the resources to upgrade as the season moves along. They deserve to be considered heavy favorites to win the division for a second straight year. No surprises here. First place, NL West.

  1. themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    I have some high hopes for my team this season. They’re built well enough as is but if Kemp can get his game on track they will be monsters. Our rotation is a bit iffy after our #3 guy, Ryu, but there is some small hope that potential #4 & #5’s Dan Haren & Josh Becket can maintain an ERA around 4. Both are old, coming back from significant surgery, and unlikely to have the stamina for a whole season, but all they have to do is be wily and limit the damage. veterans like Haren & Becket stand a better than average chance of doing that.

    Puig is bigger and stronger this season, Gonzalez is looking good, Ramirez looked beyond awesome last season (interesting off season haircut notwithstanding) and there are more Cubans in the house. i’ve grown really fond of cubans. Ive grown really fond of hearing Vin Scully pronounce Cuban names

    It should be a good season

    • spudchukar - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:58 PM

      It is true that the Dodgers have a lot of starting arms, unfortunately few of them are of quality. Plenty of run production, a boat load of relievers, mostly good, but second base is problematic, and they are only average at best at catcher. Plus, their infield defense isn’t anything to write home about. They should still prevail in a weak NL West, and I am predicting only 91 wins, but only the wild-card securing Giants will have a winning record in their division about 3 games back.

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 6, 2014 at 6:05 PM

        I see no issues with your summation. I think its fair. But no team is a powerhouse up an down the lineup, so its not a ‘throw in the towel and admit defeat” scene either. strike out pitching will limit the burden on the infield defence I hope. Barring Haren and Becket coming unglued there is hope they as a team can get the job done well enough to make the post season. after that its anyone’s series

      • spudchukar - Mar 6, 2014 at 6:21 PM

        A crap shoot it will certainly be. My guess is it will be between the Cards, Gnats, Bravos, Dodgers and Giants, in that order.

  2. cohnjusack - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    Clayton Kershaw’s last 3 starts (first 2 Spring Training Games and Last game of NLCS)

    0 -3, 16.88 ERA, IP, 15 Earned Runs, 17 hits, 6 walks, 2.88 WHIP

    I mean, clearly he’s finished as a pitcher which hurts their chances greatly. They should probably just bench release him and eat the contract so he can’t be a huge disaster every time he goes out there. I’m speaking strictly for the Dodgers best interests here, of course.

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:25 PM

      when the inevitable happens and someone treats your comment as serious at least you can console yourself with the knowledge that you hit a trifecta of trolling-
      1) small sample size
      2) cherry picking
      3) wild exaggeration

      if you’d gone all in with a spurious PED claim we would have had to cede to internet to you for the day. Your restraint in this matter is greatly appreciated.

      • asimonetti88 - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:42 PM

        Clearly he’s struggling because he’s off the roids.

    • apkyletexas - Mar 6, 2014 at 7:42 PM

      Truer words were never spoken.

      And Puig is clearly washed up already. Too bad too – such potential for both players. If only they had come up in a true, professional organization, like my Pirates.

      • jgarc007 - Mar 25, 2014 at 11:30 AM

        hahahahahah. yea because they just made the ¨playoffs¨ in 30 years. hahahaha.

  3. nymets4ever - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    Can’t wait till these soulless money machines get absolutely taken to school once again by a real organization. Last year the Cardinals were their teachers – wonder who will play the role this year?

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:27 PM

      It will not be The Mets. That you can bank on.

      the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. See “Wilpon” & “calling other teams soulless money machines”

      • dirtyharry1971 - Mar 6, 2014 at 8:09 PM

        and it certainly won’t be your team d-bag

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 7, 2014 at 8:04 AM

        Oh hello. What do they call you again? “Chimpy boy”? Hello Chimpy Boy. Throwing your dung again? Tsk.

    • dannymac17 - Mar 6, 2014 at 6:26 PM

      Annnnnnnnnnnnd the Mets wont win more than 75 games. Again. For the third year in a row.

    • happytwinsfan - Mar 6, 2014 at 8:23 PM

      be charitable, every david needs his goliath.

      carry on evil empire west, carry on evil empire east, so the rest of us can love to hate you and blame it on the payroll when we lose.

  4. phillysports1 - Mar 6, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    Did my predictions for this year with a group of friends, not going go further into details . BUT after all my predictions I have:

    DIAMONBACKS beating Texas in the WS

    Just my prediction. ( I’m a phillie fan btw )

  5. chill1184 - Mar 6, 2014 at 6:24 PM

    I’m giving the Dodgers the division because Im just very unsure of the moves that the Diamondbacks and the Giants made in the offseason. However I do believe the NL West will be a close race between those three

    • spudchukar - Mar 6, 2014 at 7:46 PM

      I have Arizona finishing the year in 4th place 73-89.

      • chill1184 - Mar 6, 2014 at 7:54 PM

        Really? Im curious to see why you think that the Padres or Rockies will overtake them

      • spudchukar - Mar 6, 2014 at 8:50 PM

        Overtake wouldn’t be the way I would express it. I just believe the Pads will be less sucky than the D-Backs. Recent injuries may make the prediction inaccurate, and it is possible the Pads part ways with Headley before the trading deadline, but I loathe the off-season moves of Arizona. Trumbo is not a NL player. And while the bull pen is solid, although Putz will never get my endorsement, the starting pitching is abysmal. I kinda like Corbin, but when he is your #1 and the distance between him and your #2 is so great, your are in dire straits.

      • ptfu - Mar 6, 2014 at 8:54 PM

        The Padres “already” overtook them, winning 76 games last season with Jason Marquis, Edinson Volquez, and Clayton Richard combining for 58 starts. Josh Johnson can’t be any worse than those guys, and could be a whole lot better even with injuries. Ian Kennedy could improve/bounce back. Continuing development from the likes of Andrew Cashner and Robbie Erlin should offset any decline from Eric Stults. Plus there are more young pitchers on the way, though the injuries aren’t helping.

        I see no reason that the same young-ish lineup, same quality bullpen, and an improved rotation can’t win more than last year’s 76 games. 81 wins for the Padres sounds reasonable to me.

  6. Carl Hancock - Mar 7, 2014 at 8:29 AM

    Can the deep-pocketed Dodgers be stopped? Of course. One word: Cardinals.

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