12 months ago, I wrote on this very blog that I hoped for a .500 season from a undermanned Dodgers team. Frank McCourt was either going to own the team for the forseeable future, or there would be a long, protracted ownership transition. Without an expedited sale, his awful stewardship of the Boys in Blue would continue into 2014. I looked at what manager Don Mattingly was working with and decided that with a tight budget, All-Stars that needed extending and a limited prospect pool, LA wouldn’t be shooting for October games. Rather, I thought that contending for a Wild Card spot late into August would be as eventful as the team got.
Instead, the Dodgers were sold for $2 billion dollars in April, and in late August completed the most expensive trade in US professional sports history. This wasn’t just a 180 degree turn—Dodgers fans everywhere got inverted into the 4th dimension, flipped backwards and deposited into China. That’s the type of turn we’re talking about.
Even though the offseason began in November, the LA offseason actually started with that very trade. With half the 2012 Boston Red Sox now in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers couldn’t gel quick enough to secure a postseason spot, unable to shed that new trade smell and get everyone comfortable enough. Thus, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford and SP Josh Beckett are essentially new additions, playing just their second month in a Dodgers uniforms.
For the Yankees West, this wasn’t quite big enough. After all, the Guggenheim Partners purchased the team for $2 billion. What’s another $200 million? They could spend that in a weekend.
Which they did.
In a three day period over an early December weekend, the Dodgers signed free agents Zack Greinke and Korean League All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu for a combined $207 million to purchase just two slots in their rotation (including a $25 million dollar “posting” fee, which LA had to pay just to negotiate with Ryu). Greinke, along with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Beckett , was inked to provide the type of relentless pitching punch that the San Francisco Giants won two championships with, throwing multiple ace-like starts at opponents.
As splashy as the Greinke and Ryu signings were, maybe the Dodgers’ most significant pick-up was hitting coach Mark McGwire. The disgraced superstar has very quietly, but very successfully transitioned into a second life as one of the league’s best hitting coaches. His recent four-year tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals was an unqualified success, helping lead improve the team in runs scored every season (the Redbirds have finished 7th, 6th, 1st and 2nd most runs scored since 2009). He’s helped Jon Jay, Allen Craig, David Freese and Yadier Molina become All-Stars and champions alike, identifying flaws in their swings and finding the best approaches to get through to each hitter.
And does the Dodgers line-up need him badly. From August on, LA struggled nightly scoring runs from such an established Major League line-up, especially Gonzalez, OF Andre Ethier and a hurt OF Matt Kemp. McGwire will be most helpful not just with these former All-Stars, but also with bit players like 3B Luis Cruz and C A.J. Ellis.
Health permitting, the Dodgers are the most talented team in the division, and maybe in the National League. But, as their neighboring LA pro sports brethren will tell them, adding massive amount of talent to even bigger expectations doesn’t always survive the tests of a marathon season.
2012 roster key departures: Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu
2013 key roster additions: Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, J.P. Howell
Postseason appearance hinges on: Zack Greinke and Adrian Gonzalez
In baseball, unlike the NBA, the key isn’t seeding, but rather simply getting into the postseason. From there, the best team may win, but most often doesn’t and the hottest team will emerge as champions. For LA in the NL West, the key is beating the Giants, fending off the Arizona Diamondbacks and not slipping up against the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies.
To do so, they’ll need a rotation to match San Francisco’s, and an offense that can slug the team’s way out of a rare poor start.
The key to the former is of course the team’s highest paid pitcher. Clayton Kershaw is a great start—maybe the best start—to a rotation, but to match a Cain/Bumgarner-type 1-2 punch, they’ll need Zack Greinke to be the 10.4 WAR hurler he was in his 2009 AL Cy Young year. Beckett and Billingsley are both capable of shutdown starts from time to time, but certainly not to the consistency and effectiveness that Greinke can provide when healthy and focused.
With the bat, all eyes are on Adrian Gonzalez. He’s one of MLB’s highest paid first basemen, but many doubt whether or not he’ll ever again hit like even one of its top-10 anymore. Gonzo needs to be the middle of the order terror he was in San Diego, in order to get Matt Kemp the pitches he needs and drive in a potentially on-base factory with Crawford and 2B Mark Ellis in front of him.
They’re both paid like the best players in the game. They need to perform like it, otherwise this Dodgers team is going to be on the couch, watching the Giants win a third title. Excuse me, I need to vomit.
Best they can do: First and foremost, the rotation proves that they’re worth every penny, which is a lot of copper justification. Greinke, Beckett and Kershaw are equals in every sense to Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum, except LA has a savagely excellent offense backing them. Adrian Gonzalez proves he’s worth the MVP money he’s being paid, while Matt Kemp proves his MVP mettle with both his bat and glove. Andre Ethier hits lefties, showing he’s more than just the league’s most expensive platoon player, while outfield-mate Carl Crawford flashes the speed and defense to remind people why he got $142 million in the first place. If any of these three, $15 million dollar-plus players get hurt? Cuban juggernaut Yasiel Puig steps in and destroys all men in front of him in a Bo Jackson fashion. “You Can’t Kill Yasiel” becomes a national marketing craze. Hysteria ensues.
The bullpen, a hidden offseason concern, becomes a not-so-hidden strength. Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belasario, J.P Howell and long reliever/spot starter Chris Capuano throw bullets and shorten games to six innings or less.
Don Mattingly proves that years of New York expectations have fortified his psyche like the grinding pressures of the deep sea and cobbles together his team of superstars to win the NL West by a healthy margin and in a few weeks time, LA’s first title in 25 years. Grown men cry and this blog shuts down for a full week because I’ll be too busy celebrating.
Worst they can do: Everyone gets hurt, no one gets along and the team gets crushed under all the expectations. Mattingly gets fired and ownership must figure out how to move forward with seemingly unmovable contracts.
The Dodgers finish 3rd in the NL West, circling .500 like vultures around my dead, depressed carcass.
Probable outcome: As I mentioned in my NL West preview, we have to respect the reigning champs, beyond all reasonable logic. The Giants are the favorites to win the division, and rightfully so–this Dodgers team, no matter how talented on paper, has proved exactly nothing.
Injury concerns have already taken down one player, SS Hanley Ramirez, and are sure to affect a team full of 30 year olds. There’s going to be a lengthy adjustment period, most specifically Greinke (to Dodger Stadium), Crawford (to playing ball again) and Ryu (to MLB-level baseball).
Taking all this in mind, I can’t feasibly predict a division title, but surely a one-game Wild Card berth. The sky is the limit, but this team has a lot of obstacles in order to harness their unbelievable ceiling.
Final prediction: 92-70, 2nd place in the NL West
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