The situation surrounding the ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been well publicized. The financial tie-up that has resulted has already had a negative impact on the team the Dodgers will put on the field in 2010. The Dodgers lost Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson to free agency, and the only outside free agent of note to come to L.A. is Jamey Carroll. The Dodgers did manage to maintain SP Vicente Padilla, but for a team in a market such as Los Angeles, that’s certainly no free agent splash.
This means that there will be some question marks for this year’s Dodgers squad. Ronnie Belliard, Blake DeWitt, and Jamey Carroll are fighting for the 2B spot. Belliard is a poor defender and a fringe major-leaguer at this point. Carroll can provide value either at 2B or as a utility man due to his good defense and versatility, but is weak with the bat. DeWitt is a total question mark – he didn’t put up great minor league batting numbers and doesn’t have a good fielding reputation, but he did perform quite well in 421 PAs in 2008.
The pitching staff as a whole still has questions remaining to be answered. Chad Billingsley had a down year last year, but was still quite productive. Clayton Kershaw has the potential to be one of the best starters in the NL and had a fantastic season last year, but he could see some regression with regards to home runs this year. Hiroki Kuroda has performed excellently in the majors (3.59 FIP), but health has been an issue. Vicente Padilla was roughly average last season, and should be a serviceable #4 starter. Then the question – who will fill that last spot? The choices range from Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios to knuckleballer Charlie Haeger to Russ Ortiz to Josh Towers. The back of rotation has plenty of depth but not much in terms of good pitching, and if one of the top 4 goes down for a significant stretch of time, the Dodgers could be in trouble.
The bullpen returns Johnathon Broxton, Hong Chi-Kuo, and George Sherrill, a trio that will make the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings tough on any team. Interestingly, nobody seems to know where Ronald Belisario is, but Ramon Troncoso pitched well last season and whoever loses in the fifth starter battle can probably fill the back of the bullpen just fine.
What really makes this team click is the starting lineup. The outfield of Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier is one of the best hitting outfields in the league, even if the defense in the corners is suspect. There’s a good chance that Russell Martin rebounds this year, even if he doesn’t quite return to 2007 or 2008 numbers. A.J. Ellis is a serviceable backup while Martin recovers from a groin injury. Casey Blake, at age 36, is starting to hit the decline phase of his career, but he still projects as an above average hitter.
James Loney doesn’t provide the pop that is expected of a first baseman, but he still is a lock for an above average OBP and about 15 HRs. As only an average fielder at 1B, that makes him one of the few below-average players in this lineup. At SS is Rafael Furcal, who is starting to slow up at age 32. His 2008 season, where he put up a 176 wRC+ in 164 PAs, was certainly a fluke, as he projects as below average at this point. He can still run a bit, but it remains to be seen how his fielding holds up.
The Dodgers bench should be solid, as the losers of the 2B battle and Reed Johnson will be a formidable first trio off the pine. Chin-lung Hu is an interesting option, as well, as he has an excellent defensive reputation at SS but isn’t quite ready with the bat at this point.
Overall, the Dodgers are a good team but certainly aren’t without their weaknesses. This is a team that should compete for a division title but by no means should run away with one, as the Colorado Rockies and possibly Arizona Diamondbacks are fielding very competitive teams this year. Look for the Dodgers to be right in the thick of an intense NL West race.