The most expensive makeover in baseball history -- sports history? -- is all but complete.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have emerged from the dark days and bankruptcy that ended Frank McCourt's tenure as owner, and they enter 2013 with the highest payroll in major league history after a 10-month makeover that encompassed the roster, the scouting department and even 51-year-old Dodger Stadium, which is undergoing a $100 million offseason renovation.
The infusion of resources from the new ownership group (fueled by a massive new TV deal, expected to be the largest in sports history if approved by Major League Baseball) has created expectations as outsized as the payroll.
"It's definitely a lot different," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of the transformation. "Last year at this point, there was a lot of anticipation -- who was the group that was going to get us? We didn't know anything about Guggenheim at that point. It's been definitely night and day. As soon as Guggenheim took over, it's just been totally different.
"Obviously, we know expectations are huge. But if you don't have those, that means you probably don't have that great a club. So the more expectations means you have better talent -- you have a better chance to win. So I'd much rather be in this situation than in a situation where everything has to go perfect and everything has to fall in place and nobody expects much from you. I don't want that."
Much still needs to go right for the Dodgers. They enter spring training with a long list of players recovering from offseason surgeries or dealing with health issues. That list includes some of the most important players on the team like Matt Kemp (shoulder surgery), Chad Billingsley (elbow) and Carl Crawford (wrist and elbow surgeries). In addition, Mattingly will have to resolve two key issues in spring training: Is Hanley Ramirez still a shortstop, and who will bat leadoff?
Mattingly has said the best-case scenario is for Ramirez to be the Dodgers' everyday shortstop with Luis Cruz at third base. However, Ramirez has to improve defensively to make that work, and the Dodgers' offseason plans to have Ramirez work toward that goal didn't go well. A minor shoulder injury kept Ramirez from playing shortstop in winter ball, and his plans to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic will further complicate matters. The WBC will take Ramirez away from the Dodgers' camp for long stretches of spring training, and the Dominican team already has Erick Aybar and Jose Reyes to play shortstop.
The leadoff issue will be equally difficult to tackle. There are no natural leadoff hitters on the Dodgers' roster, and the limited list of options is topped by Crawford, Ramirez and Mark Ellis.