This is that special time of the year when fans of the San Diego Padres have just as much hope as those of the New York Yankees. Spring Training is here, and every team in Major League Baseball is undefeated and filled with optimism.
Unfortunately for some teams, reality will hit soon enough and the promises of Spring Training will evolve into the challenges of an inferior roster. The Los Angeles Dodgers have the biggest question hanging over their heads this spring of any team in baseball: Will Manny Ramirez re-sign or will he end up playing in San Francisco?
Ramirez almost single-handedly helped lead the Dodgers to the NL Championship Series last year. Los Angeles, however, also can’t wait around for Manny to put on the blue and white uniform and head to Glendale, Arizona. Baseball is a business and the Dodgers have to go to work in spring training as if Manny isn’t going to be there.
Aside from the Ramirez uncertainty, the Dodgers have some other question marks as they head into the 2009 season:
- If the Dodgers don’t re-sign Ramirez, will they make any other moves before the season starts? –There have been rumors that Los Angeles is very interested in free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. Hudson would be an upgrade over incumbent second-year player Blake DeWitt, but DeWitt played well over the final two months of the season and in the playoffs. DeWitt finished his rookie season with nine homers and 52 RBIs and a .264 average. Here’s betting that Los Angeles will stay put with DeWitt and bank on him having a solid full year in the league. The Dodgers were also interested in free agents Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn in the event that Ramirez didn’t sign. Both Abreu and Dunn are off the market, so if the Dodgers don’t ink Ramirez, they will start the season with Juan Pierre, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the outfield.
- Is Chad Billingsley ready to be the staff ace? –The Mets have Johan Santana. The Phillies have Cole Hamels. The Cubs have Carlos Zambrano. Billingsley isn’t in the same league with those pitchers. At least not yet. Billingsley, who is healing nicely from a broken leg in the off-season, had a very solid 2008 season with 16 wins, 10 losses and a 3.14 ERA. Billingsley has the stuff and the composure to be a staff ace, but he isn’t there yet. To think that he is ready to lead a staff is a little naïve. The fact that the Dodgers are asking Billingsley to be their ace shows the team’s lack of pitching depth.
- Is Jonathan Broxton ready to the permanent closer? – After Takashi Saito went down with his elbow injury last season, Broxton had to be the closer. Broxton finished the season with 14 saves and a 3.13 ERA, but the most impressive stat was his 88 strikeouts in only 69 innings. Broxton closing out games in the ninth inning isn’t as much of a question as which pitchers will be able to bridge the gap from the seventh and eighth innings to get to Broxton.
- Can Rafael Furcal stay healthy for an entire season? – Furcal is the spark plug of the offense. When he came back for the playoffs after missing most of last year, Furcal gave the Dodgers a big lift at the top of the lineup. The problem is that Furcal missed 126 games last season and has battled various injuries for the past few years. If the Dodgers are going to have any shot at winning the NL West and making a run for the World Series, Furcal has to be in the lineup.
The Dodgers have a lot of question marks this year. With Ramirez in left field, those question marks seem a lot less daunting. If the Dodgers re-sign Ramirez, they will once again be a serious contender in the weak NL West.
If, however, the Dodgers fail to land Ramirez, it is foolish to think that they can contend all season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.