Editor’s note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
2013 record: 92-70
Finish: First, NL West
2013 payroll: $236.9 million (2nd of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $244.8 million (1st of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason ranking: 2
Dodgers in six words: Dodger Stadium: Green heaven on earth.
After spending the better part of a year, well, spending, the Dodgers showed some restraint this winter. Yes, they gave Clayton Kershaw $215 million, but that qualifies as a practical business decision not nearly as reckless as, say, giving Brandon League one-tenth that money.
The Dodgers could have used a second baseman and passed on Robinson Cano. They liked Masahiro Tanaka just fine, and allowed themselves to be outbid by the New York Yankees. They did need a third baseman and they did sign the best available, but it was Juan Uribe, so more a reflection of the market than their own newfound extravagance.
Unsure of where Tommy John surgery leaves Chad Billingsley (the same for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Josh Beckett), they signed Dan Haren to a $10 million deal with a vesting option for 2015, and as of February were dabbling in the market for another possible starter.
[Related: No. 3 Rangers: Offense gets some expensive fixes ]
They upgraded the bullpen. Brian Wilson is back, presumably to set up Kenley Jansen. He’ll be paid like a closer, which he eventually could become. And Chris Perez was brought in at the reasonable cost of $2.3 million (with another $8 million in performance bonuses.)
The new second baseman is Alexander Guerrero. He was a shortstop in Cuba, and the positional transition hasn’t been quite as smooth as the Dodgers would have hoped, but there’s time for that.
After some interesting weeks and one very interesting press conference, manager Don Mattingly had his contract extended by three years. Even so, the pressure to win – and win big – remains.
The Dodgers are a thing again, in talent, in revenue, in cable TV, in expectations, in payroll, in popularity. That was the plan, of course, since the day Frank McCourt handed over the keys, and the Guggenheim posse began to express – and institute – its vision.
What that means in first-pitch strikes and working counts and hitting cutoff men is to be determined.
For all their wealth, the Dodgers find themselves vulnerable to the usual maladies of roster construction and, then, the baseball season itself. The back of the rotation is vague. Matt Kemp is either unlucky or injury-prone or both. Yasiel Puig plays big but young. Hanley Ramirez was healthy for half a season, Carl Crawford for two-thirds.
And in the whirl of the offseason, the depth chart – and the clubhouse – lost the likes of Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr., which doesn’t sound like much until the trainer’s room gets full and there’s a lineup card to be filled out.
That said, the Dodgers probably should be favored to win the NL West … for the next decade. Kershaw and Zack Greinke stand with any one-two in the game. The back end of the bullpen features two former All-Star closers – Wilson and Perez – who aren’t intended to be closers. Given a somewhat healthy lineup (but almost no Kemp), the Dodgers scored fewer runs in the second half than only St. Louis and Washington. There may not be enough innings to go around for Kemp, Crawford, Puig and Andre Ethier, though GM Ned Colletti wisely resisted the temptation to trade one of them. Kemp and Crawford have proven to be fragile, and Puig seems somewhat combustible. Outfield health across the board could test Mattingly, and Colletti, and the greater goal. For the moment, there’s some question whether Kemp’s ankle – he had surgery in October – will be ready in time for the start of the season, which is a good enough reason to be in this situation in the first place.
Hanley Ramirez played in 86 games last season and was eighth in the MVP balloting. In 150 games as a Dodger, he’s batted .312 with 30 home runs and 101 RBI. His people are talking to their people about a contract extension, and he just turned 30, and he’s playing the game as if he likes it again, so there’s no reason to believe Ramirez doesn’t have plenty of good years ahead of him. Yeah, he’s once more that guy, or certainly looked like it in the second half and into October, before Joe Kelly’s fastball to the ribs slowed him down in the NLCS.
The question lately is whether Ramirez can handle shortstop and, if he can, for how much longer. Also, if Ramirez is just average there, and Guerrero is learning on the job at second, how much is the defense giving back.
The Dodgers will take the bat, however, and live with the glove.
They star a Kershaw,
A Kemp, a Puig, a Hanley,
Their brightest … is Vin
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