L.A. Dodgers: Will the Boys in Blue Live Up to $223 Million in Expectations?
The Los Angeles Dodgers' record-breaking annual payroll of approximately $223 million shows how much the Guggenheim Partners group desires to resurrect the franchise. However, the product that appears on the field on Opening Day will be less than stellar.
New season. New players. New enthusiasm. A beautifully renovated stadium. For the first time in four years, hearts are thumping in anticipation amongst Dodgers' fans everywhere.
The problem is, those fans may be dealt a heavy dose of disappointment, at least in the early stages of the season.
A great place to begin the analysis is in the outfield, which potentially could be the finest baseball has seen in years.
A healthy and productive Matt Kemp will be the backbone of the Dodgers' run production in 2013. And a resurgent Andre Ethier will complement the offensive output. If Kemp can come anywhere close to his .324 average, 39 home runs and 126 RBI from 2011, the Boys in Blue may soar.
Ethier hopes not only to get back on track in the power department but also to improve his performance against left-handed pitching. Andre poked 31 homers and collected 106 RBI in 2009. If he shows the ability to approach those numbers, he would exceed most expectations.
Left fielder Carl Crawford is the X-factor early on in the season. If his recovery from Tommy John surgery progresses nicely, this may be an exceptional outfield. Nobody expects him to live up to his banner year of 2006 when he hit .305 with 18 bangers, 16 triples, 77 RBI and 58 stolen bases, but again, anything on the radar of these figures would be beautiful.
The biggest problem with Crawford right now is his arm strength, and if anything should affect his health in the coming weeks, the only other options in left are Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr.
And this is where it gets ugly, at least on the offensive side.
Adrian Gonzalez at first base anchors the infield, both with his glove and at the dish. Just for reference, it was only 2011 when he hit .338 with 27 homers and 117 RBI for the Boston Red Sox.
Outside of Gonzo, and considering the thumb injury to Hanley Ramirez at the World Baseball Classic, the remainder of the infield looks bleak.
Thirty-five-year-old Mark Ellis is set to man second base on a daily basis, despite his continuing struggles to hit right-handed pitching. Luis Cruz, a career minor leaguer up until last year, is poised to produce at short. The third base spot may be a rotation of Juan Uribe, Nick Punto and Hairston Jr.
Not one single Dodgers fan across the land expected Uribe to hang around this long.
A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz will handle the duties behind the dish. Ellis had an impressive year in 2012, but many are skeptical if it can be duplicated. "Fed-Ex" is tremendous with the glove but is continuing to develop his skills with the stick.
The starting pitching staff still has a ton of question marks. Clayton Kershaw is the rock and the ace and hopes to carry the load. If Zack Greinke's elbow is healthy and loosens up, he may prove to be a formidable No. 2.
Hyun-Jin Ryu has thrown effectively this spring, and despite his unwillingness to throw extra bullpen sessions as scheduled, he could be solid for Los Angeles moving forward. Ryu pitched four innings on Thursday, allowing no hits or walks while striking out four batters.
Josh Beckett has had a solid spring and has been productive since arriving in LA. Many hope that Chad Billingsley can return to his All-Star form of 2009, although his finger injury this spring and elbow problems last year may impact his performance.
With the surplus of starting pitchers still on the roster, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly may either be forced to move to relief duties or endure a stint on the disabled list.
As for the pen, Brandon League, to the chagrin of many fans, is poised to be the closer. Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario are expected to be solid set-up men. League practically imploded Friday night, surrendering two hits, a walk and an earned run before being bailed out by Steven "Paco" Rodriguez.
As for management, skipper Don Mattingly will certainly begin the season on the hot seat. Despite the injuries the Dodgers have suffered early on, president Stan Kasten will expect Donnie Baseball to produce wins.
Even with the injuries and the holes in the infield, the Boys in Blue have the potential to perform well. However, as reflected above, there are many "ifs" that need to go positively for this to work. If Mattingly can gather his troops and create some chemistry, the Dodgers could be a contender.
But, with all the holes and question marks, this squad certainly isn't worth $223 million.
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