Big League Stew - MLB

Every day in spring training until we're finished with the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in Florida and Arizona. Next up are the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are hoping the third time's a charm in the NLCS. They just have to get there first, of course. 


'09 RECORD: 95-67, 1st in NL West

BIG ACQUISITIONS: None, unless you count Reed Johnson(notes). But you shouldn't.

BIG DEPARTURES: Orlando Hudson(notes) departed for Minnesota, leaving Joe Torre free to start Ronnie Belliard(notes) at second if he so chooses ... Starter Randy Wolf(notes) was solid in 2009 and he turned that consistency into a huge deal with the Brewers ... Jim Thome(notes) and Jon Garland(notes) were trade deadline acquisitions, but they went as quickly as they came, respectively signing with the Twins and Padres.


1. What will Year Three of Manny Ramirez(notes) bring? Man-Ram is under the correct impression that this will be his last season in Mannywood and that raises a few scary questions for LA fans. Will his uncertain contract status become a distraction? Will he feel as motivated to fight through any injury without a long-term commitment from ownership? Are they headed for the same conflicted feelings that poisoned his stay in Boston?

These types of questions have always surrounded Manny, but he's always hit the hell out of the baseball in the end. If he stays healthy (a wrist injury hurt him down the stretch in 2009) and away from the fertility pills (no more 50-game suspensions), another season of adding to his Hall of Fame numbers should follow, even if he turns 38 at the end of May.

2. Will meeting with Sandy Koufax turn Clayton Kershaw(notes) into a Jedi? There have been no shortage of comparisons between the two Dodger lefthanders and Kershaw recently sat at the knee of Koufax during an hour-long flight to Joe Torre's fundraiser. The soon to be 22-year-old southpaw said he learned a lot on that plane and if it transfers to Kershaw's third season the Dodgers will be in good shape. After a season that saw him post a 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 171 innings, Kershaw is on the brink of becoming a top-level No. 1 pitcher and the Dodgers' ace answer to Tim Lincecum(notes) in San Francisco. 

3. Is this the year that Matt Kemp(notes) becomes the biggest star in Hollywood? Well no, not as long as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers play basketball at Staples Center. But Rihanna's boyfriend is poised to earn some paparazzi of his own if he improves on what were great numbers — .297/.352/.490 with 25 homers and 101 RBI — in 2009. The 25-year-old is a legitimate threat to post a 30/30 season and when you pair him with Andre Ethier(notes), the Dodgers are comfortably set up for an outfield life without Manny Ramirez.  

4. What effect will the McCourt divorce have on the team? Frank McCourt is trying to insist that his focus remains on baseball, but that pretty much seems impossible when you consider that his break with wife Jamie is creating about as many TMZ headlines as the Gosselin split. Offseason spending was already curbed because of the club's uncertain financial situation and financial documents show that the team is planning to cut payroll (while doubling ticket prices). If the team didn't want to add a missing piece in December or January, what makes us think they'll add one near the trading deadline?

5. Can the Dodgers make the NLCS for a third straight season? Los Angeles has won the last two NL West crowns, but it's worth noting that neither came easy. The '08 squad just outkicked Arizona on its way to 84 wins while the '09 squad started strong but couldn't top the pesky Rockies until the season's final weekend. A division title in 2010 is far from a foregone conclusion and Torre will need stellar seasons from his ascendant youngsters to go three-for-three. I'm not sold on the depth of Dodgers starting pitching and there are so many lurking distractions that it'll be tough for Torre to notch the NL West hat trick.

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