The Los Angeles Dodgers are in first place in the NL West and enjoy the best record in baseball. So all is well in L.A., right?
Like any major league team, the Dodgers have a list of issues, problems, and contingencies to fix and plan for. The Dodgers look to Ned Colletti (general manager) and Joe Torre (manager) to keep a competitive team on the field and on top of the standings.
So what have they been dealing with? Here is a rundown of what seem to be the most pressing issues facing the first place Dodgers:
Jason Schmidt’s Shoulder
One of Colletti’s first big moves was signing Jason Schmidt to a huge contract worth $47 million over three years. So far, that contract has yielded one win in six starts that came way back in 2007.
Having Schmidt on the DL is nothing new. Schmidt’s injury is just a constant reminder that the Dodgers rotation has been held together with string and paperclips for some time now.
Sure, Billingsley has been spectacular, and Wolf has been one of the most underrated free agent signing of the season, but beyond that the rotation has been very inconsistent.
Kershaw reminds us that he is both brilliant and young. He has yet to reach his full potential, and until he does you simply do not know how effective he will be from start to start…or from inning to inning.
Stults is a fantastic feel-good story but it remains to be seen if he can keep fooling major league hitters with career minor leaguer stuff. McDonald proved that he is not yet ready for a prime-time role in the rotation. His replacement, Jeff Weaver, has been so far so good, but he has not been a consistently effective starter since he last pitched for the Dodgers in 2005.
Colletti knows that the rotation is razor thin right now. A healthy Schmidt is probably too much to ask for. Hopefully a healthy Kuroda is not.
And look for Colletti’s name to be prominently featured as the rumor mill regarding Peavy and other big name pitchers once the trade rumors start to heat up.
Hung-Chih Kuo’s Elbow
Like the rotation, the Dodgers bullpen has been effective in a smoke and mirrors kind of way.
Broxton came into the season as the designated closer and he has been positively lights out. Belisario and Troncoso have been effective in set-up roles, and you could do a lot worse than Will Ohman as your situational lefty.
But a few more pieces have to fall into place for the Dodgers bullpen to go from being good to great.
One of those pieces is Hong-Chih Kuo, and by pieces we could literally talk about various pieces and loose bodies floating around his elbow.
Kuo has had four elbow operations in his brief professional career. He can be very effective, as demonstrated by his 2007 numbers, but if he pitches again this season (and that is a big if…) he will have to be handled with care.
Cory Wade, also very good as a rookie in the bullpen last season, has already been shut down once this season and is another handle-with-care player.
Given Joe Torre’s reputation for running through relievers (Exhibit A: Scott Proctor), Colletti must be wondering how many additional arms he will need to sign or call up over the course of the season.
Manny Ramirez’s Urine
Manny’s urine is the talk of the entire baseball world.
To a front office, it must seem like any player at any level can test positive at any time. From a pure baseball perspective, losing your best player and the centerpiece of you lineup for 50 games extremely difficult.
But the suspension is much more than a baseball issue. It is a media circus, a public relations nightmare, and for a franchise that prides itself on its past as much as any other franchise in sports, a potentially defining moment.
There is not much Colletti can do from a roster standpoint to address the loss of Manny, and he is actually fortunate to have Juan Pierre as a 50-game fill in.
But fair or not, you, Colletti, are feeling the heat for signing a player that has brought such shame and disrepute to the Dodger trademark.
Are the Kids Alright?
We keep calling them kids—Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Russell Martin.
But at the age of 24, Matt Kemp is the baby of the group. Now I challenge you to think of any other profession where a 24-year-old is considered anything but a full-grown man.
The Dodgers have been patient with their prospects and have resisted countless temptations to trade them for more established players. With Manny out and the NL West there for the taking, it is time for the nucleus of the Dodgers youth movement to drop the kiddie persona and emerge as fully developed ball players.
Ethier has been great but now needs to be just a great without Manny’s big bat offering protection (with all due respect to Jeff Kent, those sorts of things do seem to matter).
Kemp started the season as hot as anyone in the league, but since then has cooled off considerably and still needs to demonstrate that his natural abilities can translate into consistent performance.
James Loney has a sweet stroke and is a Gold Glove caliber defender but may simply lack the power expected from an everyday corner infielder.
And Russell Martin, who two seasons ago looked like a perennial All Star catcher and born clubhouse leader, has had to shake questions about his commitment and makeup.
So while the sky is still the limit for each of these homegrown players, it is time for all of them to show that they are ready to be the cornerstones of the offense. Not the cornerstones of the future, but the cornerstones of today.
Frank McCourt’s Wallet
The husband-wife ownership team of Frank and Jamie McCourt has been suspected of lacking sufficient capital to give the Dodgers the players they need to be competitive.
This seems a bit unfair. After all, they allowed Colletti to sign Schmidt, Ramirez, and Andruw Jones to big contacts, and were willing to part with the prospects needed to make some huge trades last season. But with the ninth highest salary in the league, detractors can always claim that the Dodgers do not spend like some of their big-market competitors.
The Dodgers have needs, like another front line starter and some reliable set up men to throw in front of Broxton. Not to mention a legitimate power bat to stick at first or third base. The question is, will Team McCourt give Colletti the financial flexibility to address those needs?
As the trade deadline approaches, will the Dodgers be aggressive players and build a team capable of winning the World Series? Or will they be content to stand pat, perhaps convinced that the rest of the NL West lacks the talent to catch them?