Since I fell behind some on these posts, many teams have made the moves they intend to make at this point, and I won’t have much to say about where they should or could go from here. The Dodgers are a perfect example of that. In 2011, the Dodgers finished 82-80, which put them in 3rd place in the NL West, and 11.5 games behind the division-winner, Arizona. The Dodgers finished the season 21st in runs scored (644), 21st in team OPS (.697), and 23rd in home runs (117 – an especially sad number considering 39 of those, or 1/3, came from Matt Kemp alone). By contrast, the Dodgers finished with the 5th best team ERA (3.54), 4th most K’s (1265), and tied for 6th best WHIP (1.25). I think this just goes to show you that the old phrase “pitching wins championships” is a little over-rated. You can have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, but if you can’t score runs, you’re in just as much trouble as the teams with stellar offenses and below-average pitching (like the Rangers used to be, and the Reds have struggled with for years).
The pitching staff in LA wasn’t perfect, though. They were 24th in bullpen ERA (3.92). So, you would certainly think they would want to find a way to shore up that bullpen. Guys like Javier Lopez come to mind; or Joel Peralta. But, the Dodgers are in a bit of a bind, since they are probably not going to be allowed to spend the money they normally would, while their ownership issues get worked out. And, in light of that, it appears they’ve already done all the spending they’re going to do this off-season, and will be happy with a payroll in the $85-90 million neighborhood. But, don’t be surprised if that increases by as much as $30 million after the 2012 season, once the new ownership takes over.
So, here’s what it appears they are content with. They’ve lost Hiroki Kuroda to free agency, and appear to have decided to replace him with two back-of-the-rotation guys – Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano – at $3 million apiece. So, the starting rotation would be Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsly, Harang and Capuano. It’s decent, but I don’t think they’ll rank quite as high in team ERA when replacing Kuroda with Harang and Capuano. There’s only one reliever that they will likely stick with in 2012 that is under contract – Matt Guerrier, who is slated to make $4.75 million in 2012. The rest of the bullpen – including closer Javy Guerra – is going to be a bunch of pre-arbitration guys that won’t likely make any more than $500k in 2012. Kenley Jansen, Blake Hawksworth, Scott Elbert, and Josh Lindblom could round out this group. In just the last couple days, the Dodgers decided not to tender Hong-Chih Kuo a contract, which officially makes him a free agent. They might still sign him, provided his break-down in 2011 was an aberration rather than a sign of the beginning of a downward trend in his career. Other than Kuo, one other pitcher that could battle his way into the bullpen in spring training might be Nathan Eovaldi, a late-season call-up that split time between starting and relieving.
Speaking of the youngsters, the Dodgers farm system is seriously depleted. They have no one on the top 50 prospects list, no one in the top 10 at any position, and they’re best young talent finished the 2011 season at AA-ball or lower. Eovaldi (the lone exception) was called up to appear in 10 games, but was brought up from AA Chattanooga. Scott Van Slyke (yes, it’s Andy’s son) finished in AA, and there’s some talk of letting him try to crack the major league team in 2012 at first base. Especially since James Loney doesn’t seem like he’s turning into the great player everyone thought he would be. But, other than Van Slyke, almost all their top talent is pitching that needs at least another year or two to develop. They could potentially have some excellent young pitching when we get to the 2014 season, but it’s not going to help them this coming season.
The starting lineup will likely look similar to this for the Dodgers on opening day: 1B – Loney, 2B – Mark Ellis (a free agent signing), SS – Jamey Carroll, 3B – Juan Uribe, C – A.J. Ellis (who caught just 30 games last year, but seems to be the front-runner for the starting job in 2012), RF – Andre Ethier, CF – Matt Kemp, LF – Tony Gwynn, Jr. On the bench, they will have Jerry Hairston (another free agent signing, who can play several infield and outfield positions), Juan Rivera, Jerry Sands, and Matt Treanor (a free agent, signed on to be the back-up catcher). Van Slyke could end up filling a bench spot even if he doesn’t challenge Loney for the starting job. And, Justin Sellers is a rookie that can play nearly any infield position, and would be an asset off the bench that wouldn’t cost very much for the budget-minded Dodgers.
The bottom line for the Dodgers is they’ve got to score more runs. Kemp had a historic season, but had little-to-no support (another reason I would have voted for him for MVP ahead of Braun). Ethier started the season off on an unbelievable tear, but before he was shut down in September, his post-all-star-break numbers were awful – .252, 2 HR, 18 RBI, .672 OPS. If Ethier can return to his form from ’08-’10 when he averaged 25 home runs, 88 rbi, and .870 OPS, that will be a big boost. There’s also rumors floating around that the Dodgers’ GM is working on a trade for an unknown player that may be a corner outfielder with a big bat. But, barring a trade, this is where the Dodgers stand entering 2012. I’m not sure how much improvement to expect, since their hands are tied until new ownership comes in. What do you think?