Friday, February 20, 2009

The Los Angeles Dodgers Slightly Premature 2009 Preview

This might be the last article I write for a while so I figured I'd pick a good subject. Having already written a 2009 preview for my San Francisco Giants, that option was off the table especially since nothing has changed (and I've already written a subsequent Spring Training update). So there was only one obvious choice left.

With all due disrespect to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, those of us who truly bleed Orange and Black turn our loathing eyes to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And those Bums in brilliant blue have been busy if not active in the winter so there's plenty to discuss.

The most obvious is Manny Ramirez.

I recently wrote that the prospect of an early retirement might not be altogether unpleasant to Man-Ram. Contrary to the interpretation of some, it was just an idea. Like the rest of the baseball world, I think Manny will be in a Dodger uni for 2009. Whether it's for all 162 games or not.

So I'm considering him already signed (again, like most people). With the news that the Bums have signed Orlando Hudson and the inevitability of Manny signing, I figure Los Angeles is done as far as significant roster moves. That means the Dodgers are also a perfect subject for a 2009 preview.

And here we go:

Projected starting lineup

Catcher—Russell Martin
First base—James Loney
Second base—Orlando Hudson
Third base—Casey Blake
Shortstop—Rafael Furcal
Left field—Manny Ramirez
Center field—Matt Kemp
Right field—Andre Ethier

I don't know if LA manager Joe Torre considers any of these spots open for competition, but I think he's crazy if he does. Maybe someone has a ridiculous spring or the Dodgers add an unexpected piece. If not, this is how the field should look.

Starting rotation

Ace—Chad Billingsley (R)
Second spot—Randy Wolf (L)
Third spot—Hiroki Kuroda (R)
Fourth spot—Clayton Kershaw (L)
Fifth spot—Jason Schmidt (R)/Claudio Vargas (R)/Eric Stults (L)/Jeff Weaver (R) i.e. who knows?

I'm a sucker for alternating the rotation according to which side the hurler attacks from, but that's not necessarily the best way to go about it. Still, I think the above also happens to reflect current ability. Kershaw could make the leap this year like Tim Lincecum did for SF in 2008 (not to a Cy Young like the Franchise, but to elite status), but he doesn't warrant a higher spot yet.

That group "competing" for that fifth spot is GRIM. If I were a Bum fan, I'd be hoping Vargas can emerge because the rest are...flawed.


Closer—Jonathan Broxton (R)
Set-up—Hong-Chih Kuo (L)
Set-up—Cory Wade (R)
Set-up—James McDonald (R)
Set-up—Yhency Brazoban (R)
Set-up—Guillermo Mota (R)

Back away from that picture and several things jump off the page.

One is that the Dodgers are the antithesis of the Giants. Whereas San Francisco will try to compete on almost only pitching, Los Angeles will rely almost as heavily on its hitting.

That is a pretty fearsome lineup. For anyone unfamiliar with Loney/Kemp/Ethier (shouldn't be too many after 2008's postseason), those three kids are about to become monsters. Kemp is the most terrifying of the three, but Loney and Ethier both offer advantages in particular areas over Kemp.

Most notably, Matt Kemp acts like a punk and the other two do not.

Add to that trio the presumed services of Manny Ramirez, the guaranteed addition of Hudson, the steady if unspectacular Blake, and the paper-mache Furcal—now that is a rugged batting order from any angle.

Yet the real engine to the machine is Russell Martin.

The backstop might not be the most statistically significant piece in LA, but I'd be one happy camper if Martin suddenly disappeared from the Dodgers employ. Every team has a guy that holds the center when anarchy is loosed on the clubhouse. I'd wager Russell's that guy for LA.

If Martin was the guy absent from camp instead of Manny, I'd be giddy instead of indifferent.

So, yeah, the prospects of navigating that thorny patch of ash/maple would make me nauseous. Plus Los Angeles has Mark Loretta, Juan Pierre, Blake DeWitt, and Brad Ausmus in reserve. Out here in the National League West, that's offense for miles and miles.

The pitching, on the other hand, should induce nausea in a different group. Namely, Dodger fans.

Billingsley is the real deal. He is a legit ace and should be even better with another year under his very necessary belt. Kershaw has that potential and would greatly help the situation if he makes the leap. Wolf? Kuroda? Not so much.

They're not bad. But if you're selling me on either pitcher being anything more than average, I'm not buying.

Even if I'm underselling those two, the gaping hole in the fifth spot more than compensates. Seriously, I know the NL West is weak and getting weaker by the minute (bye Jeff Francis), but how can the plan in late-February be to let that detritus duke it out for a starting gig?

Best of luck with all that.

The bullpen is not in much better shape. I know, I know Broxton's a beast and he's huge and he throws gas and this and that and the other. So what. So is Armando Benitez. Broxton showed chinks in his armor several times last year so we'll see how he likes working without a net.

Joe Beimel is still unsigned so maybe LA brings him back, but he's no closer. If Broxton falters, who's next? Kuo is the seventh and eighth. Wade is vicious, but he's coming off his first full year so who knows how reliable he'll prove to be.

Mota? Brazoban? I think we've been there before. Hey, somebody should've told Ned Colletti that Eric Gagne was available for a song until recently. McDonald looked good at times and I've heard nice things about him, but...

Still, remember that macroscopic picture?

Just like San Francisco's, LA's include the opposition in the Senior Circuit's western division.

That means the Colorado Rockies—their 2009 season stock might as well be on Wall Street having lost Matt Holliday, Brian Fuentes, Willy Taveras, and now Francis. That means the San Diego Padres, who are even worse on paper than the Rox.

That means the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have lost two considerable pieces (Hudson and Randy Johnson) to division rivals. That compounds the loss because it helps the immediate competitions. They've also lost Adam Dunn, Brandon Lyon, and still haven't moved on the toxic Juan Cruz contract situation.

Again, just like my San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers have to like their chances.

Should be fun to watch SF try to suffocate its way to the playoffs while LA tries to batter the opposition to death. Especially when the oil-and-water approaches meet as they figure to be the favorites heading into the year.

Even the possibility of Giant-Dodger games that mean something again has me smiling. Almost as much as that fifth spot in the Bum rotation.

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