30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Dodgers Roundtable

Dodgers

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux and Chris from Dodgerfan.net.

Question 1 – Will the McCord break up affect the all season?
Matt: The impending McCourt divorce definitely affected the Dodgers offseason, particularly their ability to re-sign Randy Wolf or acquire another dependable middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. So, to that extent, they will probably feel its effects all year long. I don’t, however, believe it will affect the team’s play in any detrimental way.

The big question, of course, won’t be answered until July. The last two seasons, Ned Colletti has been one of the more active deadline GMs, picking up Casey Blake, Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland, Greg Maddux, Ron Belliard, Jim Thome, and, of course, Manny Ramirez, all of whom have been quite helpful in advancing the Dodgers to the NLCS in back-to-back years. If the team is still handcuffed by the McCourt’s legal proceeding, that won’t be happening this season. And, with four pretty strong teams in the NL West and a couple other Wild Card contenders in the other division, that could be the difference in getting the Dodgers to the postseason for the fourth time in five years.

Even more frightening for Dodgers fans, if the team were to get off to a particularly poor start (which I don’t think they will), Colletti might be tempted to shop Manny Ramirez, Hiroki Kuroda, George Sherrill, and any other tradable veteran on the team (perhaps even Russell Martin). Colletti probably has no idea what his financial constraints are going to be for the next couple seasons, so he may covet whatever flexibility he can procure by unloading money this season. It’s not going to be long before the Dodgers have to negotiate or renegotiate with Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Loney, Billingsley, and Broxton, all of whom can command a sizable contracts on the open market. The most pressing expiring contract however (beside Manny’s) is Joe Torre. Will he be willing to re-up with the Dodgers in 2011 if the organization’s future is still in limbo?

So, I guess I’m saying, yes, the McCourt break-up has huge implications for this season and many future seasons as well. It doesn’t have to go the doom and gloom route, but it could.

Chris: I actually don’t think the ongoing Dodgers Divorce Court will negatively affect the team any more than it already has. Clearly payroll is an issue (despite what Dodgers management says). The team is paying about $10 million less in salaries in 2010 than they did in 2009, which was less than they did in 2008, while they continue to draw with the top teams in the majors. Numerous baseball insiders have reported that the Dodgers didn’t want to pay big bucks to go after a #1 starter in the offseason.

But that’s in the past. Where the divorce could hamper the team is if the Dodgers are in contention at the trade deadline. Will they have the cash necessary to bring in a big arm? Time will tell, but the club says they’ll do what they need to do, and at this point, I think we have to take them at their word.

Other than this, I think the divorce is just going to be one of those annoying questions that you will see being asked of every player and manager in every interview session.

Question 2 – How will the rotation shape up?
Matt: There is a lot of anxiety surrounding the Dodger’s rotation here in SoCal, mainly because they seemed to struggle to find pitchers for each and every postseason game last October. It’s easy to forget that L.A. led the league in ERA (3.52) during the regular season, and were second only to the Braves in rotational ERA (3.58). When Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw were 16-9 at the All-Star Break last season it would’ve been impossible to imagine we’d be describing the Dodgers as “a team without an Ace” only a few months later. Whether their second half slide (4-10) was due to injuries, bad luck, or youth, I think it’s safe to say they will be more consistent this season. The Dodgers will miss Randy Wolf and Jon Garland, but I expect Hiroki Kuroda to be a more than competent #3.

The real question is at the backend. Vicente Padilla was the Dodgers best starter in September and October last year. He’s always had the ability to dominate, but is it reasonable to expect that at the age of 31, he finally discovered how to do it consistently? The final spot will probably go to either James McDonald or Charlie Haeger, who have both been pretty good…at AAA.

Chris: I agree with a lot of what Mike said on this question. I believe the Dodgers rotation is shaping up pretty well and is solid up front. They’re obviously relying heavily on Kershaw and Billingsley to be the dependable anchors of the rotation, which is saying a lot given that they left Billingsley off the NLCS roster. Regardless, both are solid young pitchers with tremendous upside, even with their struggles at the end of last season. I really believe they’re only going to get better as the season progresses and it’s going to be exciting to watch their development. Hiroki Kuroda is a solid #3 starter when healthy, but I worry about him being able to stay that way throughout the season given that he just turned 35. Ditto for the 31 year-old, #4 starter Padilla.

Padilla was amazing for the Dodgers, but which Padilla is going to show up in 2010? The one that was the Dodgers most dependable starter in the playoffs, or the one that was released by the Texas Rangers in the middle of the season?

The #5 starter is the real question mark with tons of players in the mix, including Eric Stults, James McDonald and Charlie Haeger. McDonald is probably going to be the starter eventually, but given that Stults and Haeger are out of minor league options, my guess is that one of them starts out in the rotation. There are a lot of reports that the Dodgers are about to sign Braden Looper as the #5 starter. In my opinion, that would be a huge mistake as the 36 year-old Looper didn’t exactly catch the world on fire with his 5.22 ERA with the Brewers. Plus he’s old.
Speaking of old, the Dodgers also have the following guys in camp competing for a job, but I seriously doubt any of these guys will make the big league club coming out of Spring Training: Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz and Josh Towers. But you never know, stranger things have happened!

Matt: Yeah, I also noted the presence of Weaver and the Ortiz twins (actually, they’re unrelated). I odds are definitely against them make the big-league club, but it should be noted that Weaver pitched surprisingly well as both a long reliever and a spot starter for the Dodgers in ’09 and I remember Torre commenting several time on how valuable Weaver was, both because of his versatility on the mound and his experience in the clubhouse. If one of the youngsters doesn’t make a strong effort claim the spot, it wouldn’t totally surprise me if Joe rewarded the cagey veteran, at least short-term.

I hadn’t read anything about Looper. Ick. I think that’s a recipe for disaster. The Dodgers definitely have better in-house options.

Question 3 – What should we expect of Russ Martin?
Matt: Well, following reports of a groin strain this morning, this question becomes much harder to answer. The early prognosis is that he will miss the remainder of Spring Training and at least the first couple weeks of the season. However, the reports also suggest that it isn’t terribly serious and he should be at full strength when he returns.

Russell Martin is my favorite player, so I’m always going to tend towards optimism. I believed strongly that his poor performance last season was due to a lingering injury that the Dodgers allowed him to play through. Anybody who has watched Trane knows that he is a “Charlie Hustle” type player who will fight against taking even a routine day off. As a result, his offense has consistently suffered in the second half of the season, even in his good years, as the grind of making 150 starts behind the plate catches up to him. So, to a certain extent, this could be good news. The Dodgers are forcing him to take care of himself. While he’s certainly not going to pull a Joe Mauer when he comes back, I could see the extra rest in the spring making him more productive through the remainder of the season. A return to something approaching his ’07-’08 numbers is still realistic.

Eugene: I’m hoping for a bounce back season since he’s my catcher in my fantasy keeper league. If he can’t go for the Dodgers, they don’t have much catching depth. He’s one of the keys of the season – they need him to be healthy and produce to make it to the post-season.

Question 4 – Where will the Dodgers finish the season in the standings?
Matt: The Dodgers will be in the hunt once again, but the NL West isn’t a cakewalk. There are four teams with high expectation for the 2010 season and of them, the Dodgers may be the team with the least room for error.

The last couple seasons, L.A. has been saved by their depth. When Manny got suspended last year, Juan Pierre stepped in and hit .318 for fifty games. When Billingsley and Kershaw faltered, Ned Colletti went out and acquired Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland. When Takashi Saito went down for the season, up came Broxton.

I don’t expect them to be as resilient this season and, as a result, if they aren’t very, very fortunate (the injury to Trane is not a good start) they are likely to miss the postseason for the first time in the Joe Torre era.

(Is it just me, or have I now predicted three teams will finish third in the NL West?)

Eugene: I agree. They will contend, but I think they still have the division. Yes, the pitching is definitely weaker, but I see the team making a deal at some point during the season. They’ve proved in the past that they are willing to move prospects, and pending the divorce stuff, could do it again.

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