Los Angeles Dodgers: The 10 Brightest Spots of an Otherwise Disappointing Season
Many words may be used to characterize the ups and downs of the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2010 season, but from the standpoint of the fans, the best fitting description would be nothing short of "disappointing."
Normally, most teams who don't achieve the goals and ambitions that were set in spring training have the entire offseason to rebuild and regain focus, but in the case of the Dodgers, there are numerous off-field situations that seemingly need resolving before the team can move forward.
The decision regarding current manager Joe Torre's future in Dodger Blue may be coming in the next week or two once Los Angeles is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs; however, all signs are pointing to the fact that the organization is still undecided on Joe's replacement if he does indeed decide to pack his bags.
Unless Frank and Jamie McCourt reach a settlement before their divorce trial resumes on September 20, the court's ruling regarding future ownership of the club may not be arriving until sometime in December.
Also, with the uncertainty as to whom will be controlling the team in 2011 comes the question marks of the payroll parameters heading into next season.
More than a handful of current Los Angeles players are facing possible arbitration with the team, yet with next year's budget still unpredictable, the Dodgers may even decide not to negotiate with these players at all.
Regardless what happens in the winter, the Boys in Blue hope to develop a new, sharper focus, and build on the positives that were displayed in 2010.
The following slides illustrate 10 of those bright spots and offer a few words of commentary as to how the Dodgers' organization will benefit from them moving forward.
After four arm surgeries nearly took him out of baseball completely, it seems as if lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo just keeps getting better.
The biggest highlight of Kuo's season was being named to his first-ever Major League Baseball All-Star team, and although he wasn't an initial selection by National League skipper Charlie Manuel, Kuo's stats certainly proved that he was among the best firemen in baseball.
With 18 games remaining in the 2010 season, Kuo has a 3-2 record in 50 appearances and 53 innings of work. His ERA is 1.36 and his WHIP calculates to a phenomenal 0.81 while he's tallied a total of 20 holds. After being named the Dodgers' closer when Jonathan Broxton was no longer effective, Kuo added six saves to his stat line.
Kuo is coming off of a one-year deal with the Dodgers for less than $1 million, but with the instability of the bullpen, it is almost a given that his winter arbitration will be a success. If Los Angeles doesn't explore the market for a big-market reliever, Kuo may once again be the featured closer in 2011.
After Jay Gibbons' alleged involvement with HGH and being named in the Mitchell Report in 2007, he was released by the Baltimore Orioles before the 2008 season even began.
He was bumped around in both the Milwaukee Brewers and Florida Marlins organizations in 2008 and 2009, and prior to signing a minor-league contract with the Dodgers before the 2010 season, he played for the Newark Bears in the Atlantic League.
While playing with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, Gibbons was named to the 2010 Pacific Coast League All-Star team, after batting .347 with 19 home runs.
The Dodgers finally began to sort out their roster in early August, and Gibbons was called up on August 8. In 26 games and only 43 at-bats in a Dodger uniform, Gibbons is hitting .349 with five home runs, with 15 RBI, and a slugging percentage of .698.
Gibbons probably won't be an expensive sign in the offseason, and although his glove can be a bit suspect in the outfield, he's certainly an upgrade from the questionable defense of Manny Ramirez. Gibbons' ability to play first base also adds to his value.
The Raptors and the Loons
If the low end of the Los Angeles minor-league system is any indication of the future of the franchise, brighter days seem to lie ahead.
Under the guidance of first-year manager Damon Berryhill, the Ogden Raptors, the Dodgers' affiliate in the Pioneer Rookie League, set a franchise record in wins with 44. After defeating Orem in a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs, Ogden moved to the Championship round for the first time since 1996 to face the Helena Brewers. The Championship series begins on Tuesday.
In the Midwest Class-A League, the Great Lakes Loons also set a team record with 90 total wins. Led by manager Juan Bustabad, the Loons defeated the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the first round of the playoffs, and are currently battling the Lake County Captains in the Championship round.
Depending on their progressions, the stars of both the Raptors and the Loons may possibly have a shot at appearing in Dodger Blue as early as the 2012 or 2013 season.
After being claimed off waivers from the New York Mets in August, Rod Barajas quickly began to contribute to the Dodgers' struggling offense.
In only 15 games and 39 at-bats in a Dodgers' uniform, Barajas is batting .332 with two doubles, four home runs, eight RBI, a slugging percentage of .692, and an OPS of 1.115.
With Russell Martin facing possible free agency and Brad Ausmus retiring, Barajas certainly fits into the Dodgers' plans for 2011. His 2010 salary totaled $500,000, so a contract with Los Angeles for 2011 shouldn't be very difficult to agree upon.
Still only 25 years of age, Chad Billingsley proved in 2010 that he belongs in the core of the Dodgers' starting rotation.
Billingsley's current record of 11-9 with his 3.65 ERA isn't necessarily indicative of his effectiveness this year, as it was evident the Dodgers' bats were scarce whenever he was on the mound.
Unlike a year ago, Chad was excellent in the second half of the season, and his overall ERA dropped almost four-tenths of a point from last year. Although he still has room to enhance his game, Billingsley showed much improvement with his control and command, as his BB/9 dropped almost five-tenths of a walk.
His one-year, $3.85 million contract expires after this season, but Billingsley is one of the few players who is almost guaranteed a multi-year deal moving forward with Los Angeles.
Without a doubt, 2010 saw Clayton Kershaw continue to prove that he is the ace-in-waiting of the Los Angeles Dodgers' pitching staff.
With only a few starts remaining in 2010, Kershaw finds himself at 11-10 with a 2.99 ERA. His strikeout total is already higher than last year, and he also continues to conquer his command issues, as his BB/9 dropped from 4.8 in 2009 to 3.8 this season.
His run support at 4.0 runs per game is also low, which is reflected in his record, yet 21 of his 29 games started were considered quality starts.
At only 22 years of age, Kershaw still has time to develop. Like Billingsley, Kershaw is one of the few players on the Dodgers' roster who is guaranteed a new contract in 2011. He's currently signed under a one-year deal worth $440,000, but Dodgers fans can expect Los Angeles to sign Clayton to a multi-year deal to keep him in Dodgertown for the next several years.
Kenley Jansen was originally signed by the Dodgers out of the Netherlands as an amateur free agent in 2004, and although he played most of his career as a catcher, scouts quickly recognized his arm strength and began working him on the pitching mound.
Jansen quickly climbed through the Dodgers' minor-league system, as his ability to hit upwards of 98 mph on the radar and the excellent movement on his cutter set him apart from other relievers on the farm.
In 18 appearances for the Dodgers in 2010, Jansen is 1-0 with an ERA of 0.96 and one save. His WHIP is 1.071, and his K/9 is a stunning 14.0, which would be among the league leaders if Jansen had more innings pitched.
Jansen's chances of signing a deal with the Dodgers this winter are excellent, as everyone in Dodgertown agrees that he will fit in perfectly as a Dodger closer heading into the future.
Zach Lee, who was the Dodgers' first-round draft choice in the 2010 draft, was originally thought to be on his way to Louisiana State University to play football. However, Dodgers' assistant general manager and director of scouting Logan White convinced Lee to sign by offering the highest rookie bonus in Dodgers history, and White turned out to look like a genius in the process.
Many teams who were ahead of the Dodgers in the draft order passed on Lee, as they thought his path to LSU was impossible to divert.
The Dodgers are very careful with their methods in terms of grooming young pitchers, but in regards to talent, athleticism, and potential, Lee is about the best as they come.
At only 18 years of age, Lee already has brilliant command, and has the ability to throw three different pitches for strikes—a fastball, a straight change, and a slider. While pitching in high school, Lee's fastball was regularly clocked at speeds in excess of 95 mph.
Because he hasn't been throwing much, Lee is not likely to see any action in the Arizona Rookie League, but he will be receiving instruction at Camelback Ranch almost immediately. Dodgers fans can expect Lee to be competing with the Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer League as early as next season.
Nobody on the Dodgers' entire roster pushed harder, hustled faster, or showed more enthusiasm during the 2010 campaign than utility infielder Jamey Carroll. If fans, players, and coaches were to vote on a team MVP today, Carroll could very well be the unanimous choice.
He was signed by the Dodgers last winter to a two-year, $3.85 million dollar contract to primarily provide back-up cover at short and second base, but with the frequency of injuries to the Los Angeles infielders, Carroll was almost a permanent fixture in the Dodgers' lineup throughout the course of the season.
When the Dodgers' outfield was in shambles, he even filled in admirably in left when called upon, and quite possibly he has been playing with a broken finger on his right hand since August 3. Carroll refuses to have his hand examined until the offseason, as any diagnosis may prevent him from contributing during the last several weeks of the schedule.
While appearing for Los Angeles in 125 games this year, Carroll is hitting .290, with 15 doubles, 22 RBI, and 48 runs scored. His glove has also been solid, as he committed only four errors in 274 total chances, which calculates to a .985 fielding percentage.
In whatever role the team needs him to play, Jamey Carroll will certainly be a key contributor to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011.
The Return of Vin Scully
Vin Scully is the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers' franchise, and will continue to be for at least one more season.
During the days leading up to Scully's decision, most folks around Dodgertown were at a loss for words when faced with the possibility of watching a game on television without hearing, "It's time for Dodger baseball."
2011 will be Vin's 62nd year in the booth, and he has seen it all—everything from the mastery and brilliance of the great Sandy Koufax to the insanity of Kirk Gibson's game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series.
Dodgers fans won't digest what Vin Scully really means to the franchise until he does indeed retire, but at least for the time being, his graceful, reassuring voice will provide a sense of security while the Dodgers trudge through a rocky off-season and look forward to brighter days ahead.
Just imagine the tribute that Vin will receive when he finally does walk away from the broadcast booth.