Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next stop is Camelback Ranch to see if Clayton Kershaw(notes) and the Dodgers can regain their playoff form of 2008 and 2009.
2010 RECORD: (80-82, fourth place in NL West)
BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: General manager Ned Colletti swiped infielder Juan Uribe(notes) from the rival Giants, and spent $12 million to sign reliever Matt Guerrier(notes) away from the Twins. Jon Garland(notes) makes for a stable fifth starter, though how Vicente Padilla(notes) is used will be up for grabs.
BIGGEST DEPARTURES: Joe Torre managed the squad to two berths in the NLCS, but has returned to managerial retirement. ... Russell Martin(notes) appeared to be a Dodgers icon-in-waiting after his first three seasons behind the plate, but after two down years he has moved on to the Yankees.
FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE DODGERS
1. Is Don Mattingly the right guy to lead them?
It's a loaded question. It's not so much that managers aren't important — although their importance often is overstated — but there's just not a lot of difference between Manager "A" and Manager "B." Most of them manage in a similar way. There's only so much influence they can wield.
With that out of the way, Mattingly already had a harrowing experience that makes you wonder. Filling in for Joe Torre against the Giants in July, he was charged with two mound visits on one trip, which caused chaos for the Dodgers and the umpires. "They call him 'Donny Baseball,' not 'Donny Rulebook,' " Yahoo! Sports' own Tim Brown wrote at the time.
2. How does the McCourt divorce matter? As a group, major leaguers tend to be skilled at tuning out off-the-field issues. The turmoil in upper management has no bearing, for example, on how Matt Kemp(notes) rebounds from a disappointing season or who closes games. But the divorce and its financial fallout means nearly everything to the future of the organization. They're still in position to contend in 2011, but if leadership is distracted, indecisive or inefficient, there's no reasonable way to expect the Dodgers to win beyond this season.
3. How close is Clayton Kershaw to being the best pitcher in the majors? Going by Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement stat, he was 14th-best in 2010 — just after CC Sabathia(notes) and just ahead of Roy Oswalt(notes). As long as Kershaw continues to cut his walk rate and still strike out abundant amounts, he's on a trajectory of greatness. Mattingly wasted little time in naming him the opening day starter — so Kershaw can assume that he's at least the best pitcher on his own team. And that's saying something, considering that Chad Billingsley(notes), Hiroki Kuroda(notes) and Ted Lilly(notes) also are in the rotation. Hey, if you're looking for positive signs about Mattingly, there's one; He didn't mess around in putting Kershaw at the top of the list.
4. Is Jay Gibbons(notes) really going to be the starting left fielder? It's pretty amazing, considering Gibbons seemed locked out of a job in the wake of the Mitchell Report connection. Yet, after two-plus seasons away from the majors, Gibbons slugged .507 in a trial 75 at-bats in '10 and appears poised to get a lot of playing time. He hit 115 homers from 2001-2006 with the Orioles, so he has produced before.
5. By the way: *Is* Kemp going to turn it around? His attitude, reportedly, has been good so far. That's a good first step in returning to form. Kemp's production in all aspects dropped noticeably in 2010. His defense was bad, his baserunning was bad and his on-base percentage was barely above .300. The Dodgers seemed to nag him about it constantly, too. This time, Kemp can start fresh with Mattingly, and he could benefit from the baserunning coaching of Davey Lopes. He's just 26 years old and should be in good position to succeed.
Follow Dave on Twitter throughout his spring training journey — @AnswerDave