2019 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Preview: Only injuries will prevent NL West title

Editor’s note: Baseball is back and Yahoo Sports is previewing all 30 teams over the next month. This year’s previews will focus on fantasy and reality, as our MLB news staff and our fantasy baseball crew come together to assess each team before opening day. Next up, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two straight World Series trips and zero World Series wins, the Los Angeles Dodgers had quite the interesting offseason. They traded Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Cincinnati Reds. They signed A.J. Pollock. They watched Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal leave. And they didn’t sign Bryce Harper.

Beyond that, their GM Farhan Zaidi left to become the team president of the rival San Francisco Giants. The 2019 Dodgers will be different in a lot of ways, but they’re all still very much the same.

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They’re depending on Justin Turner’s bat, Kenley Jansen’s arm and they’re worried about Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager’s health. They have a lot of pitchers, but still not a real clear path about who are their best five. They could be well served by a Cody Bellinger bounce-back, and a full season from the oft-injured Pollock.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw talks to Walker Buehler during a spring training baseball workout Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Clayton Kershaw will start the 2019 season on the DL for the Los Angeles Dodgers. (AP Photo)

The good news is, they’re still the team to beat in the NL West, and only injuries should stop them from another division title. But that injury potential certainly looms — especially with Kershaw, who we already know won’t be ready for opening day.

The fantasy side is equally cloudy. There’s a lot of talent, but also many of the same questions. If Kershaw, Seager and Pollock are healthy, they’re certainly people you want on your team. But if you’re risk-averse, the Dodgers might be quite the test.

As they say, however, with great risk comes great reward. And that sounds a lot like the Dodgers these days. - Mike Oz

Dodgers’ offseason grade

This offseason is a tough one to grade. The Dodgers of the past few years have built themselves on depth — having six outfielders and playing matchups like crazy. The Puig and Kemp trade seemed to indicate that’s not necessarily going to be the strategy anymore, filling the outfield gap with Pollock.

The Dodgers also lost a bit of starting pitching depth by including Alex Wood in that trade. The Dodgers got back two prospects and Homer Bailey, who they then released, so it wasn’t about immediately about making the big-league club better.

Fact is, the Dodgers have plenty of talent and keeping the farm system stocked also behooves them. They could have made a play for Harper or still could for Dallas Keuchel, but the Dodgers are hoping players like Bellinger and Julio Urías step up instead.

Our grade: C- — It wasn’t thrilling, or particularly bold, but the Dodgers are clearly trusting who they have.

Dodgers’ projected lineup and pitching staff

The projected lineup for the 2019 Dodgers. (Yahoo Sports)
The projected lineup for the 2019 Dodgers. (Yahoo Sports)

Who will be the best fantasy buy for Los Angeles?

It took a while to fully recover from offseason wrist surgery, but Justin Turner posted a 190 wRC+ after the All-Star break last season, which was second-best in MLB behind only MVP-winner Christian Yelich. Turner is 34 years old and a durability concern but is also one of baseball’s very best hitters, and he’s in a terrific spot batting in between lefties Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. More than 10 other third basemen have higher ADPs, making Turner one of the most underrated fantasy targets out there. - Dalton Del Don

What is the biggest fantasy question for Los Angeles?

One of the biggest fantasy questions of the year is what to do with Clayton Kershaw, who’s this generation’s best pitcher but carries significant injury risk after failing to surpass 175.0 innings in a season since 2015 and currently dealing with a shoulder injury (to go along with his chronic back issue). Kershaw’s fastball velocity and SwStr% have declined each of the past three seasons, and there’s real risk of him being shut down at any moment, making his current ADP in the mid-70s far too high. The question is no longer whether Walker Buehler holds more fantasy value than Kershaw, it’s whether other teammates like Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling also do. - Dalton Del Don

Dodgers’ prospects to watch

Outfielder Alex Verdugo will be in the majors for most of the season, but given the Dodgers’ affinity for mixing and matching, he likely won’t see regular playing time. Baseball America compared Verdugo to Nick Markakis, so expect a high average with decent power.

Catcher/third baseman — yes, you read that right — Will Smith should also see some time in the majors this season. Same with pitchers Caleb Ferguson and Dennis Santana. - Chris Cwik

Things that MUST go right for the Dodgers

1. Clayton Kershaw gets right: Kershaw's health has become a source of constant concern for Los Angeles. After missing time the last three seasons with various ailments, now it's his left shoulder that isn't feeling right. That's a big red flag for a team with championship aspirations. The good news is Walker Buehler seems destined to be an ace, if he isn't already. The concern is that Ross Stripling, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda all have varying degrees of questions surrounding them. A limited or outright injured Kershaw would put a huge dent in their hopes.

2. Corey Seager's return: The two-time All-Star shortstop was limited to 26 games last season after undergoing operations on his right elbow and left hip. Now the question is just how effective he can be in 2019. Seager was a game-changing talent and was arguably the centerpiece of L.A.'s lineup his first two full seasons. With Chris Taylor serving as the only insurance, the Dodgers are banking on and will absolutely need him to be a game-changer again.

3. Kenley Jansen returns to dominance: It's another championship or bust season for the Dodgers, which means they'll need to be clicking on all cylinders. Another key piece of that puzzle is Jansen, who struggled with health and effectiveness last season. The most important news is that Jansen is doing well following his second heart procedure in six years. Now they'll need his return to elite status as a closer to help anchor a talented bullpen. - Mark Townsend

If this team had a walk-up song, what would it be?

The theme for the Dodgers this year is believing in the roster they’ve built over the past few years. There were more departures than arrivals. Certainly not the big-ticket offseason you might expect from a club of their magnitude.

They’re going to live and die with what they have. Tupac would be proud.

More 2019 MLB Previews From Yahoo Sports

Baltimore | Miami | Kansas City | Detroit | Texas | Toronto | San Diego

Chicago (AL) | Minnesota | San Francisco | Pittsburgh | Arizona | Seattle

Cincinnati | Los Angeles (AL) | Oakland | Tampa Bay | Colorado | Cleveland

New York (NL) | St. Louis | Atlanta | Philadelphia | Milwaukee | Chicago

Washington | Los Angeles (NL) | Houston | New York (AL) | Boston