With all of the moves that they have made over the past few months, there is no doubt that there will be a lot of pressure on the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. The team is expected to have a payroll of at least $225 million according to Mike Bauman of MLB.com, which would be the largest in league history.
Despite making a few trades to bring in All-Star caliber players last season and spending over $200 million on starting pitchers this winter, some evaluators believe that the Los Angeles Dodgers may still not have a better team than the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants (h/t Buster Olney of ESPN).
Even with the elite roster that they have assembled, it will be no easy task for the Dodgers to win the National League West. To get a better idea whether the Dodgers' spending has pushed them passed the Giants, the teams should be looked at on a position by position basis.
There is no debate over which team has a better catcher. Buster Posey was the National League MVP in 2012 and is the best catcher in baseball. A.J. Ellis is a good catcher, but he is not close to Posey's level.
At first base, the Dodgers have the edge. Adrian Gonzalez may not have demonstrated the power stroke that he has in the past, but he is still going to hit around .300 and drive in 100 runs for the Dodgers. Brandon Belt is a talented young player, but still needs to continue to develop.
The San Francisco Giants will once again be trotting Marco Scutaro out at second base while the Dodgers will turn to Mark Ellis. These two players have different skill sets. Scutaro has been more of an offensive presence, while Ellis has been better with the glove.
Brandon Crawford made some strides in 2012 during his first full season in the major leagues, but at the plate, he cannot compare to Hanley Ramirez. However, Crawford is able to make up for a large portion of that difference because of his value defensively. Last season Crawford posted a 2.0 dWAR total while Ramirez had a -0.5 dWAR total (h/t Baseball-Reference).
Third base is another area where the Giants have a big edge over the Dodgers. Pablo Sandoval is an All-Star and a potential MVP candidate while Luis Cruz has never played a full season at the major league level.
Things get interesting when you compare the outfielders on the two teams. Los Angeles should have the advantage in left field with Carl Crawford, but it is hard to know what to expect from him or if he can even stay healthy. The Giants have Gregor Blanco out in left, and while he is not a superstar, he is a big part of the team's lineup.
Both teams have very solid center fielders, but the advantages there goes to the Dodgers. Matt Kemp is only a year removed from an MVP season and he is a potential 40/40 player. Even if Angel Pagan exceeds his performance from last season, he may not be able to match a healthy Kemp.
Over in right field, the match-up of Hunter Pence and Andre Ethier is a close one. Both players have a strong offensive presence in their respective team's lineup. Either player can change a game with one swing of a bat.
By looking through the projected starting lineups for both the Giants and the Dodgers, it seems as if the two teams are very closely matched. Each team has multiple All-Stars and a number of players that can contribute both offensively and defensively.
The battle for supremacy in the National League West may very well come down to the two team's pitching staffs.
Clayton Kershaw is one of the top pitchers in the National League and the Dodgers are very fortunate to have the young ace on their staff. He will likely have a few outings this year against Matt Cain, the Giants ace. These pitching duels will be fun to watch as both starters are immensely talented.
Seeing the number two starters on these teams face off will be a treat as well. The recently signed Zack Greinke gives the Dodgers an elite No. 2 starter. Los Angeles is counting on the former Cy Young award winner to be one of the pieces that leads them to the playoffs.
While the Giants are only paying Madison Bumgarner a fraction of what the Dodgers are giving Greinke, San Francisco should get just as much, if not more production from their No. 2. The 23-year old has been lights out since he reached the majors and has a career 3.20 ERA compared to Greinke's career 3.77 ERA.
Both team's have some questions about their third starter. Josh Beckett was inconsistent with the Boston Red Sox last season, but he was able to turn things around once he was traded to the Dodgers. Seven starts is a small sample size to go off of, but it is a good sign for Los Angeles.
Tim Lincecum could be one of the best No. 3 starters in baseball history. The 2012 season was a struggle for the two-time Cy Young award winner, but he was able to turn things around in the second half. Following the All-Star Break, Lincecum posted a 3.83 ERA and held hitters to a .328 on-base percentage.
If both pitchers are able to pitch in 2013, the Giants will still have a big edge in this spot.
Newly signed Hyun-Jin Ryu will be the Dodgers' fourth starter in 2013. He was very successful in South Korea, posting a 2.80 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in seven seasons, but it is uncertain how his numbers will translate to the United States.
Meanwhile, the Giants know what they can expect from their fourth starter. Ryan Vogelsong has pitched very well over the past two seasons and was a key part of the Giants' World Series run.
According to the Dodgers' official depth chart, Chris Capuano is penciled in as the team's fifth starter, but the team has other options. As it stands, Capuano is a better fifth starer than Barry Zito, the Giants No. 5.
Zito had one of this best years as a member of the Giants last year, but he has struggled with consistency after moving across the San Francisco Bay.
Chad Billingsley ended last season with a partially torn ligament in his throwing elbow and while it looks like he may be able to start in the majors in 2013, it is still too early to tell (h/t Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times).
While it is a push when it comes to the offense, the Giants have the edge when it comes to starting pitching.
One of the Dodgers' biggest strengths last season was their bullpen. They had the eighth best bullpen ERA in the game, while the Giants bullpen was 15th (h/t ESPN). It appears that this will once again be an advantage for the Dodgers in 2013.
Even after all of the moves that the Dodgers have made in the past seven months and all the money that they have spent, it is hard to say that they have actually passed the Giants in terms of talent.
The Dodgers ownership may need to open up their wallet one or two more times or have the team make another trade before they actually surpass their longtime rivals.