Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

2009 Record: (95-67) 1st place in the NL West, Lost in the in NLCS to the Phillies

Key Additions:
The only player even worth mentioning in this section is OF Reed Johnson, which tells you about all you need to know about how active the Dodgers were this past offseason. With the ownership families mixed up in a fairly ugly divorce, it seems they weren't really able to focus on anything regarding the team.

Key Departures:
SP Randy Wolf (signed with the Brewers), OF Juan Pierre (signed with the White Sox)

Nothing too surprising here, the Dodgers have a nice mix of young talent (Kemp, Loney, Ethier) and veterans (Ramirez, Blake) so they really didn't need to do too much, nor are the losses of the above players all that huge. Even their pitching staff is decent, should Kershaw and Billingsley really start to dominate.

Talent En Route:
There are two prospects in the Dodger farm-system that are ranked 5-stars by Baseball Prospectus, the BatShatters official source for Prospect information.

Dee Gordon SS - at 22-years old, Dee is probably still two years away from being on the big league roster, but if he can continue on the pace he set last year (.301/.362/.394 in 131Gs at Low-A), it could be sooner. The problem is that his position at the big-league level is currently held by Rafael Furcal, and he's unlikely to be going anywhere soon. There has been talk of turning Gordon into a center-fielder to pave his path to the big leagues, but as of now no position change has been made. He's extremely fast (stole 73 bases last year), with good hand-eye coordination and some decent power potential as well. Keep an eye on this kid over the next couple of seasons, especially since scouts have called him a "Jimmy Rollins starter kit."

Chris Withrow RHP - (1st round draft pick in 2007) Withrow's pitch is the fastball which is consistently in the 93-95 range and tops out in the upper-90's. He has had health problems in the past which have hindered his development, and has also suffered from bouts of over-throwing which lead to higher walk rates. All that said, the fastball is electric and BP has him projected as a 2nd starter or possibly even a closer (due to his lack of a solid secondary pitch). He'll start this season at Double-A, it's hard to say what the timetable would be for his first crack at The Show.

2011 Free Agency & Salary Outlook:
The two biggest names coming up for free-agency in 2011 for the Dodgers will be LF Manny Ramirez and SP Hiroki Kuroda. Manny will be 39 next year and though I imagine there will be some interest in him, I can't imagine anyone will be banging down the doors to sign him to anything more than a 2-year deal and it's hard to say whether the Dodgers would be the #1 suitor or not. As far as Kuroda goes, that could be a different story, he's going to be 36, but has pitched fairly well in 2 big-league seasons to this point (injured part of last year). On the one hand, I could see the Dodgers resigning Kuroda during the year this season, but on the other hand, at 36 he probably doesn't have many years left. His original deal was 3 years/$35M+ and if they did something similar to that, maybe 3 years/$30M, it would make sense, particularly if you consider they have Chad Billingsley locked up through 2012 and Clayton Kershaw locked up through 2014.

With the Dodger payroll sitting around $102M this year and being north of $100M the past 4 seasons, they could be looking at some money to spend if they want to stay at that level. At this point, they have $61M committed for next year, but they will be losing the $20M/yr. salary of Ramirez and the $15.3M salary of Kuroda. As I mentioned above, they may resign Kuroda which would like take up $10-$15M of that available money, and they do have quite a few arbitration-eligible players, but they could easily have $15-$20M to play with to land a big free-agent. That said, I'd look for the Dodgers to be bigger free-agency players this coming offseason than they were this past offseason.

The Future of the Los Angeles Dodgers:
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this year is particularly special for the Dodgers in that it is the last season that the legendary Vin Scully will be calling games. He has been calling games for an astounding 61 years for the Dodgers and it will definitely be a big change when he's gone. If you've never heard Scully call a game, you really are missing out, along with Uecker in Milwaukee, they are the only two broadcasters who call the games alone. Scully has such a vast knowledge of the game, it's very interesting to listen to him. But I digress.

The rest of the future of the Dodgers really hinges on the outcome of the ugly divorce that is currently happening within the ownership. If everything is resolved by this coming off-season and the team wants to maintain that $100M+ payroll, they could be big players, surrounding the young nucleus of talent they have with even more pieces. If they don't spend the money, I still think this team is in pretty good shape for another year or two, but eventually they are going to start having to lock up some of this young talent like Matt Kemp, James Loney, Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, and Chad Billingsley. That's going to cost some money...a lot of money.

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