Los Angeles Dodgers Preview: Sizing Up Don Mattingly's Team As Spring Approaches

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Los Angeles Dodgers Preview: Sizing Up Don Mattingly's Team As Spring Approaches
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With Spring Training rapidly approaching, the 2011 Los Angeles Dodgers' roster is nearly finalized. First-year manager, Don Mattingly, hopes to improve the team from the 2010 edition that was two games under .500.

Expectations were high going into last season after the 2009 club won a National League-high 95 games in 2009. A combination of bullpen injuries, a fading Manny Ramirez, and the messy owner situation resulted in a fourth-place finish in the NL West and frustrated fans.

"The question I have this year, that I didn’t have last year ago, is really rebounding from last season'08 and '09 were two really good years," said GM Ned Colletti.

"We gained a lot, players matured a lot, got more understanding of the dynamics of competing at this level and playing in October.

Heading into the 2010 season, many thought that the Dodgers biggest issue would be their starting pitching. This was simply not the case as the Dodgers received productive seasons from starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vicente Padilla, as well as a bounce-back second half from Chad Billingsley.

The Dodgers' biggest problem in 2010 was their lack of offensive fire power, with the Dodgers hitting just 120 home runs, second fewest in the NL, and consistently struggled to score from months June through September.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Despite having the second highest attendance of any NL team in 2010, and the highest in 2009, the Dodgers will likely head into 2011 with just the fifth highest payroll at $95 million.

However, this total does not include the near $35 million that the Dodgers still have to pay to several ex-Dodgers, in particular Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andrew Jones, and Jason Schmidt.

We have seen teams go deep into the playoffs without top payrolls before, most recently the 2010 AL Champion Texas Rangers, who had the 26th lowest payroll out of the 30 MLB teams.

Here is a comparison of the 2010 Dodgers starting lineup with the projected 2011 edition:

2010:

Rafael Furcal, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Manny Ramirez, LF
Casey Blake, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Ronnie Belliard, 2B
Russell Martin, C

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

2011:

Rafael Furcal, SS
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Casey Blake, 3B
Juan Uribe, 2B
James Loney, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Xavier Paul, OF

 

Offense

At first glance, the 2010 Dodgers lineup looks better on paper than the 2011 version, after the departures of Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin, and Ronnie Belliard. However, Ramirez, Martin and Belliard all had disappointing seasons, so Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas, and Xavier Paul should not be any worse than those three.

Above all else, among the 2010 starting Dodger position players that will return in 2011, it seemed like every one of them had a slightly worse season than expected, leading to a collective struggle on offense for much of the season.

With guys like Ethier, Kemp, and Loney hitting their prime years, as well as Blake and Furcal attempting to recover from disappointing 2010 seasons, the Dodgers might very well get more out of their 2010 starters in 2011.

Bench

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Whereas Los Angeles should get solid production out of their veteran starters, the Dodgers do not quite know what to expect from their bench.

Newly-acquired outfielder, former Yankee Marcus Thames, should provide much needed power off of the bench. Thames, 33, had an OPS of .841 in 237 plate appearances last season, and hit at least 25 home runs in two of the last four seasons.

The starting lineup is not set in stone so, for example, impressive spring training results from Dioner Navarro, Jamey Carrol, or Marcus Thames could very well result in a 2011 starting lineup without second baseman Juan Uribe, catcher Rod Barajas, or outfielder Xavier Paul.

Outfielders Jay Gibbons and Tony Gwynn Jr. will also be coming off the bench. Gwynn Jr., who has speed, is a great option for a pinch runner.

Starting Rotation

The 2011 Dodgers' starting rotation consist of five proven guys, each of whom had an ERA of less than 4.00 in 2010. Not many teams can say that.

The opening day starter figures to be 22-year-old southpaw Clayton Kershaw, fresh off his first All-Star game appearance, as well as his second straight season with an ERA under 3.00 and one of the best BAA (batting average against) in the league.

Next in the rotation will be 26-year-old Chad Billingsley, who has had a very good career in five seasons with the Dodgers, aside from a slump that lasted from mid-2009 until the All-Star break of 2010.

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The Dodgers' third starter is Hiroki Kuroda, who was now pitched three full season in the MLB, keeping his ERA under 4.00 all three seasons.

Old, but reliable veteran Ted Lilly will be the No. 4 starter. Lilly, 35, has had double-digit win totals in eight consecutive seasons and was a 2009 All-Star.

Always-consistent Jon Garland will be the fifth starter, carrying an even more impressive streak of nine straight 10-win seasons.

Vicente Padilla, 33, figures to be the Dodgers' No. 1 option in a long-relief situation, as well as someone that can start if one of the starting five fails to stay healthy. Overall, the rotation is certainly stronger than it was last season, when the Dodgers struggled to find their fifth starter all year long.

Bullpen

One of the biggest concerns for the Dodgers going into 2011 is their bullpen, which did a nice job in 2010, but currently has many unproven guys aside from Hong-Chih-Kuo, Jonathan Broxton, and Vicente Padilla.

Relief pitchers Ramon Troncoso, Ronald Belisario, and Blake Hawksworth each had sub-par 2010 seasons after great 2009 campaigns, so it is tough to know what to expect from them. Aside from those six relievers, the Dodgers will most likely use the inexperienced Kenley Jansen and Scott Elbert, as well as second-year Dodgers John Ely and Carlos Monasterios.

The biggest concern might be the lack of left-handed throwers out of the pen, considering that Kuo and Elbert are the only two on their projected 25-man roster.

Fielding

On the defensive side, the Dodgers should be solid. Their starting infield has the experience of Juan Uribe, Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal to go along with above-average defenders James Loney and Rod Barajas.

With Manny out of left field, and Xavier Paul expected to take his spot, the Dodgers should be better defensively in the outfield as well.

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The Dodgers appear to have truly found their core guys, most of whom came out of the Dodger farm system in 2006. This includes starters James Loney, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp, as well as pitchers Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton.

Every one of them has already been to the postseason with the Dodgers three times, and they are all hungry to finally make it past the second round. The one exception is Kershaw, who came up in 2008.

Presumably, the Dodgers success will hinge on whether they can produce sufficient power and timely hitting—two aspects of the game that the Dodgers never got right in 2010.

The Dodgers could really use big years out of outfielders Matt Kemp, 26, and 28 year-old Andre Ethier, each of whom declined in 2010 after career years in 2009. When at their best, we have seen both guys play as well as any outfielders in the National League.

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