The Los Angeles Dodgers are probably the most polarizing team in all of professional baseball. They have the resources to be able to get anything they want, but they have not succeeded in the postseason over the past three seasons. Because of that, many in the Dodgers brain trust is trying to think about what needs to be done to get the team over the hump.
After the Dodgers lost in the first round of the National League Division Series this past season, the organization needed to find out the reason its talented team has yet to get to the World Series. The Dodgers have won the National League West division three straight seasons, first losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 National League Championship Series, then in the NLDS the following two seasons. Manager Don Mattingly and the Dodgers agreed to mutually part ways, leading many (including myself) to believe that it was the Dodgers who scapegoated the former Yankees great for not making it past the first round the past two seasons. In comes Dave Roberts, the longtime major league outfielder and coach. Known for his epic stolen base in the 2004 American League Championship Series Game Four for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees, Roberts has spent the last couple seasons as the bench coach for the San Diego Padres including serving as the interim manager for one game after Bud Black was let go last season.
Losing (perhaps unexpectedly) top starting pitcher Zack Greinke (19 wins, 3 losses, 1.66 earned run average, 200 strikeouts, just less than 222 innings) to the Arizona Diamondbacks was a major blow to the overall expectations of the team. Of course, because they are the Dodgers, the team did add a couple of free agent starting pitchers including Scott Kazmir (7-11, 3.11, 155 Ks, 183 IP) and Kenta Maeda (15-8, 2.09, 175, just over 206 IP) pitching most recently for the Houston Astros and the Hiroshima Carp, respectively. The Dodgers also brought back infielders Howie Kendrick (.295 batting average, 9 home runs, 54 runs batted in, .746 on base plus slugging) and Chase Utley (.212, 8, 39, .629). The addition of breakout reliever Joe Blanton (7-2, 2.84, 79 Ks, 76 IP) from the Pirates should help deepen their bullpen.
The Dodgers offense is led by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.275, 28, 90, .830), but falls off a little bit afterwards. Third baseman Justin Turner (.294, 16, 60, .861) joins Kendrick and outfielder Andre Ethier (.294, 14, 53, .852) in the projected middle of the Dodgers batting order. The major key to the quality of Los Angeles' batting order potency will be what they get out of outfielder Yasiel Puig (.255, 11, 38, .758) and rookie shortstop Corey Seager (.337, 4, 17, .986 in 27 games in LA and .293, 18, 76, .831 in the minors). Seager is battling a preseason injury, but is expected to become an impact player immediately. The same has been said about Puig, who truly has the ability to be one of the best players in the entire game. His hamstring injury seems to be a thing of the past and he has the ability to raise his game above his solid numbers of 2013 and 2014. Puig and Seager will be the difference in the Dodgers being a good team and a really good team. The difference between being a borderline playoff team and a team that becomes the favorite in winning their forth consecutive National League West division title.
Joc Pederson (.210, 26, 54, .763) will be in center field and Yasmani Grandal (.234, 16, 47, .756) will be behind the plate. Injuries to Seager, Turner and Grandal early on will put some importance on the construction of the team's bench. Kike Hernandez (.307, 7, 22, .836) has the ability to back up both in the infield and the outfield, spelling Pederson on many occasions in 2015. Utley, Carl Crawford (.265, 4, 16, .707), Scott VanSlyke (.239, 6, 30, .700) and AJ Ellis (.238, 7, 21, .758) give the team some depth but questions do remain over how much Utley, Crawford and Ellis have left. And Hernandez and VanSlyke have not proven a ton at the big league level, so it remains to be seen how both can handle it if they are given extended playing time. The Dodgers lineup I would go with is Seager SS, Kendrick 2B, Gonzalez 1B, Puig RF, Turner 3B, Ethier LF, Pederson CF, Grandal C. Once again, the Dodgers will be in trouble if they do not get great production from BOTH Puig and Seager.
In addition to the loss of Greinke, the Dodgers will be without left hander Hyun-jin Ryu for likely the first month of the season and right hander Brandon McCarthy for an extended period of time as the latter recovers from Tommy John surgery. Left hander Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69 in 31 starts last season), who accepted the Dodgers qualifying offer for 2016 at $15.8 million, will miss a good amount of the season as well, leaving the Dodgers shorthanded to start the season. Yes, the Dodgers do have the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw (16-7, 2.13, 301 Ks in just under 233 IP). Kazmir and Maeda will immediately be expected to play major roles, something that should be more expected from the former than the latter. Left hander Alex Wood (12-12, 3.84, just under 190 IP) could possibly take his game to the next level which would be beneficial for the Dodgers. Right hander Mike Bolsinger (6-6, 3.62, 98 Ks in just over 109 IP) is likely to start the season as the number five starter with Brandon Beachy hoping his second season removed from his second Tommy John operation will show some better results.
In spite of the injury concerns, the Dodgers still possess some very solid young starting pitching options likely to start 2016 in AAA. Top pitching prospect Julio Urias has struck out 264 batters in just over 222 IP in the minors and could rise towards the top of the Dodgers rotation once he is called upon. Right hander Jose De Leon has amassed 335 Ks in just over 244 innings during his minor league career. Frankie Montas, acquired in the off season trade that sent third baseman Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox, is currently injured but should provide some depth early in the season - probably before the Dodgers call up Urias and De Leon. Soon to be 20 year-old right hander Grant Holmes also has explosive stuff but is much further away.
The Dodgers passed on a trade this off season for left hander Aroldis Chapman, making the Cuban left hander a Christmas present for the New York Yankees. They have one of the most underrated relief pitchers in the entire game in Kenley Jensen (2-1, 2.41, 36 saves, 80 Ks, just over 52 IP). Chris Hatcher (3-5, 3.69, 45 Ks, 39 IP) can perhaps be a more impact- full presence, so can left hander Luis Avilan (2-5, 4.05, 73 games). JP Howell (6-1, 1.43, 65 games) may have a chance to work more full innings as opposed to being just a left specialist. Having Avilan around should allow the Dodgers to do so potentially allowing for Howell to be even a more valuable option. Righty Pedro Baez (4-2, 3.35, 60 Ks, 51 IP) will be joined by Blanton giving the Dodgers above average options. However, they do not have another reliever to back up Jensen anyway near the level of a Chapman. I think the Dodgers missed the boat on that one.
If you were painting the ideal picture for the 2016 Dodgers, it will start with Seager and Puig becoming instant stars right now. Perhaps Wood and Maeda solidify the two and three spots in the Dodgers rotation and Urias and De Leon impact either the rotation or bullpen for more than half of the season. The Dodgers will win their share of games because of Kershaw and Gonzalez. I think Roberts will be fine as a manager, but it will be tough to expect the Dodgers to keep up with the likes of the San Francisco Giants and Diamondbacks, both of whom improved their teams considerably. One thing I respect about the Dodgers is the fact that they will not stand pat if they realize a severe team need. I can see the Dodgers using their farm system, which has been strengthened over the past couple seasons, to make that last move that can put them over the top. That being said, my predictions are based of what the teams look like at this moment and what can be expected from the players currently in the organization. Las Vegas has the Dodgers over/ under at 87, a number I only think could be obtained by adding another impact position player and/ or starting pitcher from another organization. I have the Dodgers at 82-80, third place in the National League West division.