The Dodgers need veterans to return to form

Steve Henson
Yahoo! SportsJanuary 18, 2011
The Dodgers need veterans to return to form
The Dodgers feel good with Clayton Kershaw leading the pitching staff

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

2010 record: 80-82
Finish: Fourth place, NL West
Final 2010 payroll: $131.5 million
Estimated payroll on opening day: $103 million

Offseason action

A curious inverse relationship between stature and stability exists within the Dodgers' organization. Ownership is in flux, general manager Ned Colletti is forced to operate on a tight budget and new field manager Don Mattingly is untested. The best players – Matt Kemp(notes), Andre Ethier(notes), Clayton Kershaw(notes), Chad Billingsley(notes) and Jonathan Broxton(notes) – are proven and yet all have stumbled, some in spectacular fashion. The rank-and-file are beyond reproach – the usual Colletti collection of unblemished veterans milking another year or three out of their careers.

Knowing his NL West division well, Colletti spent what little money he had primarily on pitching, bringing back starters Ted Lilly(notes), Hiroki Kuroda(notes) and Vicente Padilla(notes), and adding an additional starter in Jon Garland(notes) as well as relievers Matt Guerrier(notes) and Blake Hawksworth(notes).

Colletti was under a loose mandate from owner Frank McCourt to keep on-field payroll at $95 million. He exceeded that slightly after signing right-handed-hitting left fielder Marcus Thames(notes) on Tuesday (the Dodgers owe departed Juan Pierre(notes) and Andruw Jones(notes) a combined $6.5 million, bringing the total payroll to more than $100 million).

Besides Thames, who will platoon with Jay Gibbons(notes) or win the job outright, additional position players of note are confined to infielder and World Series hero Juan Uribe(notes); good-field, no-hit center fielder Tony Gwynn(notes) Jr.; and catchers Rod Barajas(notes) and Dioner Navarro(notes). The Dodgers overpaid slightly for Uribe, perhaps intoxicated by his postseason exploits for Colletti's previous employer, the Giants.

Reality check

For all his bluster to the contrary, McCourt wisely is hedging his bets and spit-polishing the Dodgers for sale if it comes to that. The Dodgers haven't committed to long-term free-agent deals and won't. Operating expenses have been trimmed. No word on McCourt's hairdresser.

Meanwhile, Colletti makes do. Bounce-back years from Kemp and Broxton could be enough to keep the Dodgers in contention in a West made weaker by the absence of former Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez(notes). Ethier and Billingsley are in their prime, and it's time that Kershaw's results consistently match his stuff.

The Dodgers don't have much power, and noise about first baseman James Loney(notes) suddenly hitting 25 home runs is wishful thinking. It'd be enough if he returned to batting .290 and driving in 90 runs. The left side of the infield is fragile, and Casey Blake(notes) and Rafael Furcal(notes) are unlikely to play full seasons without injury. Uribe is the key piece, able to play second base until an injury prompts a move to the other side of the bag.

It's hoped that Barajas and Navarro will replace the rapidly diminished production of Russell Martin(notes), who was non-tendered, although a scenario of the thoroughly below-average A.J. Ellis(notes) catching 90 games is a distinct possibility.

Colletti has done well bolstering the roster at midseason on the cheap, and he'll need to do it again. His mentor, Brian Sabean, proved to be the more adept in-season team builder in 2010, albeit with more cash to spend. With the Padres in retreat, an old-fashioned Giants-Dodgers rivalry could percolate this summer.

Dodgers in haiku

Fox in the henhouse
This isn't our town, it is
The circle of strife

Next: Baltimore Orioles