The Dodgers had an opening day team payroll of $95,143,575 right before the 2012 season, according to www.stevetheump.com. They boosted it up to $216,597,577 for the start of the 2013 season, which trailed only the New York Yankees. From opening day of 2014 to opening day of the 2016, the Dodgers led the major league in payroll with totals of $235,295,219, $272,789,040, and $223,352,402, respectively. According to www.baseballreference.com, the Dodgers are estimated to once again lead all of MLB in team payroll at a projected $234,700,000.
I respect any sports team that goes to all leaps and bounds to win. The fact that the Dodgers want to have the best team, regardless of what that cost is, is something that other teams should try to learn from. The ultimate prize of winning a World Series title should trump any silly business "bottom line profit on paper" garbage. One of the moves the team made this off season was to acquire second baseman Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that would rather discuss other ways of making a dollar than actually win a baseball game, have a winning season, or dream of competing for a World Series Championship. The Dodgers also signed relief pitcher Sergio Romo from the rival San Francisco Giants (ironically, the Rays were also interested in his services) and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez from the Seattle Mariners. Most importantly for the Dodgers, it was the return of three of their own free agents that stole the headlines of their off season. The Dodgers brought back reliever Kenley Jansen (5 years, $80 million), third baseman Justin Turner (4 years, $64 million) and starting pitcher Rich Hill (3 years, $48 million).
The Dodgers are led by the Sandy Koufax of this generation, Clayton Kershaw. He enters this season with a 2.38 earned run average for his career and an ERA less than 2.00 in three of the past four seasons. The three time Cy Young Award winner tired in game four of the 2016 National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals only to redeem himself by getting the final two outs of game five to help the Dodgers get to the NLCS for the first time in three tries (They failed to make it past the NLDS in 2014 and 2015 after doing so in 2013). Hill was great last season (12 wins, 5 losses, 2.12 ERA, 129 strikeouts in just over 110 innings pitched) and was only hindered by a bizarre blister situation which sidelined him for an extended period of time. In a season where the Dodgers got just 21 starts from Kershaw and six from Hill, right hander Kenta Maeda stands out with his 32 starts in 2016, finishing the season 16-11 with 179 Ks in just under 176 IP. Though he is very similar mechanics- wise to former Dodgers starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, Maeda debuted in the major leagues four years younger than Kuroda, has a much better ability to miss bats, and strikes out batters at a much higher rate. Outside of that three, nothing is really etched in stone, though the Dodgers have a lot of talented starting pitchers. Left hander Julio Urias has top of the rotation stuff, but the 20 year- old will be on an innings limit this season which will impact his usage. Veteran Scott Kazmir has a career history of injuries and will be battling with three other injured Dodgers veterans- Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Hyu, and Alex Wood. Ross Stripling is yet a ninth option for the Dodgers, who show you can never have enough proven starting pitchers to begin a season.
Jansen was the key to the Dodgers bullpen last season and would have been a huge loss if he signed elsewhere as a free agent. He had 100 strikeouts in just under 69 IP to go along with his 1.83 ERA, 0.067 WHIP and 47 saves. Romo replaces Joe Blanton, who did a solid job last season. Left hander Grant Dayton struck out 39 batters in just over 26 innings last season and is joined by fellow left handers Adam Liberatore and Luis Avilan. Right handers Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, and Chris Hatcher could be the difference in the Dodgers having an average bullpen to one that is among the best in the league. Hatcher is the biggest wild card in the group, as the plus ability in his stuff can be much better than it has been over the past two years. Pay attention to right hander Brandon Morrow, who clearly has the arm to resurrect his career as a reliever. Hopefully, he can stay healthy.
The Dodgers have one of the most consistent offensive players in all of major league baseball in first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez has played in at least 156 games in each of the past eleven seasons. He can be counted on to hit around his career .290 batting average and OPS (on base plus slugging) of .854. Turner parlayed his break out season (.275, 27, 90 in career high 151 games played) into his new contract. 2016 NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager was probably the Dodgers best offensive player (.308, 26, 92, 106 runs scored, 193 hits, 40 doubles). Forsythe (.268, 20, 52), who came over in the deal that sent top pitching prospect Jose DeLeon to the Rays, was limited to just 127 games in 2016 due to injury. Power hitting center fielder Joc Pederson is the surest thing the Dodgers will be penciling into their outfield, though a lot can still be expected. Left fielder Andre Ethier was limited to 24 at bats in 2016 and Yasiel Puig remains the most gifted baseball talent since Bo Jackson. However, right now, both are considered platoon options with Andrew Toles, Gutierrez, and Trayce Thompson, the latter likely to get some time in center against lefties, spelling Pederson. Kike Hernandez can play center, but also anywhere on the infield, with Chase Utley back for another season planning to play a little third base as well as second. Scott VanSlyke and Rob Segedin will also play important reserve roles with Austin Barnes getting ready for his first full season as the backup to starting catcher Yasmani Grandal.
Infielder Cody Bellinger is the team's best prospect by a mile and he possesses MLB ready power. Unfortunately, he is blocked by Gonzalez, but that has led the Dodgers to play him in the outfield, which should expedite his progress. Though the Dodgers have options in the outfield, Bellinger can clearly earn an everyday job by doing what he did last season. Second baseman Willie Calhoun hit 27 home runs last season in the minors. Though Barnes is already on the big league roster, the 27 year-old has the tools to be a solid game calling asset behind the plate with potential to hit enough to be a major league regular. Right handed pitcher Brock Stewart made his big league debut last season and is an insurance option both in the starting rotation and bullpen for this coming season. Down the road, watch out for outfielder DJ Peters, who seems to have the tools to be a solid all around hitter, mostly a power hitter though he hit .351 last season. RIght handed pitcher Mitchell White threw 22 scoreless innings across three minor league levels last season, striking out 30 batters while surrendering just seven hits and six walks.
It has not been spoken enough about how important this season is for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Payroll aside, it is about the investment the ownership group has made to build this team into a winner. Winning National League West division titles are good, but the Dodgers are going to be expected to do more than that this season. I think they have the tools to do so- they have an extremely deep starting rotation and have changed their philosophy in the outfield from needing a star at each position to setting up the best match ups to their advantage. The NL West is going to be the most competitive division in all of baseball and will be one of only two with four teams finishing the season with over .500 records. Because of that, I have to take the over/ under numbers into fair consideration. Las Vegas has the Dodgers at 91.5 and though it makes perfect sense to take the over, I am not. I have the Dodgers at 90-72, first place in the NL West.