With a rebuilt roster and a payroll soaring well beyond the $200 million mark, the Dodgers are loaded up to either make a World Series run or become one of the biggest high payroll busts in history. Which will it be?
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Depth Chart (as of 3/21)
C: A.J. Ellis
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
2B: Mark Ellis
SS: Hanley Ramirez
3B: Luis Cruz
LF: Carl Crawford
CF: Matt Kemp
RF: Andre Ethier
SP: Clayton Kershaw
SP: Zack Greinke
SP: Chad Billingsley
SP: Josh Beckett
SP: Hyun-Jin Ryu
CL: Brandon League
The Dodgers made wholesale roster changes at the trade deadline in 2012, but they felt the need for more in the off-season. Their biggest play was dumping the largest contract in history for a right-handed pitcher on Zack Greinke to give them a killer 1-2 punch with Clayton Kershaw. They also spent a large chunk of change to import Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will challenge for a rotation spot of his own since the Dodgers have something like seventeen starting pitchers on their roster out of sheer greed. A less costly but perhaps more impactful move was their pick up of J.P Howell, which gives their strong a bullpen a very potent lefty. Finally, they traded for utilityman Skip Schumaker to beef up their bench.
Believe it or not, the Dodgers actually had a lot of players leave them this off-season. I guess they can't pay everyone. Then again, I'm not sure they should have paid any of these guys. They basically shed their entire bench in Matt Treanor, Adam Kennedy, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera. On the pitching side, Joe Blanton was set free, as was spare bullpen parts Todd Coffey, Randy Choate and Jamey Wright. Really the only impact player who departed was Shane Victorino, although the Dodgers did make an effort to keep him as a Carl Crawford insurance policy, because that is how much freaking money the Dodgers have. Instead, Victorino got overpaid to head to Boston. I guess you can't win 'em all.
The aforementioned Ryu should land a rotation spot even though he has not been great this spring. He does, however, have upside and a big contract. Beyond that, there isn't much room for rookies to make an impact. There will undoubtedly be some calls for muscle-bound outfielder Yasiel Puig to force his way onto the roster at some point after the monstrous performance he has thus far turned in during Cactus League play, but that seems premature since he has yet to play above Advanced-A ball.
The lineup is pretty well set, or at least it will be once Carl Crawford gets healthy. Until then, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr. will share playing time in left field. A lot of people have their doubts about Luis Cruz at third base, but his job is safe for now. On the pitching side, it is quite a different story as they have four very competent contenders for one rotation spot. Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Hyun-Jin Ryu are all competing with each other to be the fifth starter. Ryu is the clear front-runner at this point with Ted Lilly behind him, if he proves healthy. At least one of the three veterans Harang, Lilly and Capuano figure to become trade bait once the situation is settled. It is also worth noting that Brandon League is the nominal closer for LA. This despite the notion that Kenley Jansen is probably a vastly superior pitcher.
The Dodgers might actually need all eight of their starting pitchers due to the various health concerns amongst the group. Ted Lilly is coming off shoulder surgery in the off-season and is generally injury prone. The more pressing concern is Zack Greinke who had an injury scare recently but seems to have gotten passed it. It is probably nothing to concern the Dodgers now, but Clayton Kershaw did suffer some minor arm problems down the stretch in 2012. The Dodgers do have two large unresolved injury problems to deal with. The first of which is Carl Crawford's comeback from Tommy John surgery. It seems unlikely that he will be ready to start Opening Day and some reports suggest he could miss several weeks. Even when he does come back, there is no certainty that he will resemble the player that became an All-Star in Tampa Bay. The other issue is Hanley Ramirez who suffered a thumb injury in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic. He'll miss two to ten weeks, but the Dodgers are hoping it's on the lower end of that as they only have Nick Punto to offer up as a replacement. There is also Kenley Jansen's heart problems from last season, but those are said to have been corrected now. Oh, and Matt Kemp is coming off an injury-riddled season too. Gosh, maybe they really did need to spend all that money to make sure they could survive all these injury red flags!
Are the Dodgers really as good as their payroll suggests?
The best case scenario for the Dodgers is the worst case scenario for the rest of baseball. They use their financial clout to build this roster which runs away with the NL West, picking up Chase Headley from the Padres along the way and then they laugh at the league as they cruise through the post-season to a World Series title and throw a victory parade in LA that uses $100 bills in place of ticker tape and confetti. Meanwhile, every other MLB team weeps as they realize they simply will never be able to compete at the same level as the Dodgers, the new emperors of baseball.
The Dodgers have too much talent to be a bad team, but they do have enough players with health and/or performance question marks that they could be a mediocre team, which would be something of a disaster given their massive payroll. That isn't an outlandish scenario either. Part of the reason Boston was so eager to dump Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford was they they had underachieved in recent years, the same goes for the Marlins willingness to unload Hanley Ramirez (well, that and Jeffrey Loria is pure evil). Things only get worse if Matt Kemp can't stay healthy again and/or Zack Greinke ends up having legitimate arm problems.
There is probably enough question marks in the Dodgers lineup to prevent us from already anointing them the NL West champs, but there is still a lot of talent. The real strength of the team lies in the rotation though. Kershaw and Greinke could be the best rotation pair in baseball and the back end of the rotation should shape up nicely if only because they have so many options to chose from that they should be able to get three decent seasons out of the six remaining options. So even if Gonzalez's power doesn't come back or HanRam misses a month or two, there is little reason to think that LA won't be in the hunt for the division right up until the very end.