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Last season, the Dodgers shot out of the gate with a 12-2 start that nobody remembers. Injuries, age, and clubhouse problems (i.e. Milton Bradley) caused the ballclub to flounder and underachieve for the rest of the year.
Widely considered to possess the best minor league system in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers nevertheless signed numerous veteran players to allow their kids extra time to develop. We’ve seen this strategy fail many times before, but the caliber of player that new GM Neddie Coletti has brought in impresses. Most importantly, the club now has a lot of depth, enabling it to perhaps sustain a rash of injuries such as what the Dodgers experienced last year.
Here’s an outline of the Dodgers’ changes this offseason:
2005 Starters: Jason Phillips, Dioner Navarro
Projected 2006 Starters: Navarro, Sandy Alomar Jr.
Los Angeles has a 23 year-old prospect in Navarro who hasn’t yet shown that he can hit or field at the Major League level, and a veteran in Alomar who can’t do either anymore. Although this still represents an improvement over last year’s debacle at backstop, catcher remains a very weak position for LA.
2005 Starters: Hee Seop Choi, Olmedo Saenz
Projected 2006 Starters: Choi, Nomar Garciaparra
Choi and Garciaparra came to the Dodgers for low, low prices given each of their market values circa 2003. Hee Seop’s still just 26, Nomar’s only 32, and they should rebound to form an excellent platoon in 2006. Even if they don’t, Kent will be ready to move over to first when Cesar Izturis returns in June.
2005 Starters: Jeff Kent
Projected 2006 Starter: Kent, Cesar Izturis
Kent remains the best hitting second baseman in the Majors, and the Fielding Bible shows him to be a better defender than his reputation depicts. He has a plus/minus rating of +2 over the past three seasons, although he does have trouble turning two. Fortunately, Izturis will be able to spell his defense by midseason, and surrounding newcomers Furcal and Garciaparra should help compensate for Kent’s mediocre range.Third Base
2005 Starters: Antonio Perez, Mike Edwards
Projected 2006 Starters: Bill Mueller, Olmedo Saenz
Perez actually did a decent job last year, while Edwards was awful. Bill Mueller’s batting champion days are behind him, but he’s solid on both sides of the ball, and represents an upgrade over the combined production the Dodgers got from the hot corner last season. Both Saenz and Garciaparra can also fill in here if needed.
2005 Starters: Cesar Izturis, Oscar Robles
Projected 2006 Starters: Rafael Furcal, Robles
Sure, the Dodgers overpaid for Furcal, but he’s almost certainly the best defensive shortstop in baseball, and ranks among the game’s best leadoff hitters. His Post-All Star break numbers last year: .322/.394/.474.
2005 Starters: JD Drew, Jayson Werth, Jason Repko, Milton Bradley, Ricky Ledee
Projected 2006 Starters: Drew, Jose Cruz Jr., Kenny Lofton, Werth, Ledee
If Drew’s healthy all year, this is a good outfield for the Dodgers. But if he’s not, we know that Lofton isn’t an everyday player any more, and there may not be enough depth here, unless Kent or Garciapparra can don an outfielder’s glove. Still, it looks as though fewer at bats will go to the lackluster Ja(y)sons this year, and the removal of Mr. Board Game can only help the clubhouse.
Pitching 2005 Front Three Starters: Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Jeff Weaver
Projected 2006 Front Three: Penny, Lowe, Jae Wong Seo
Penny, Lowe, and Seo each finished with ERAs below 4.00 last year. Penny turns 28 in May, and could finally be healthy enough to break out. Lowe’s Post-AS ERA last year was 3.17, and as one of the most prolific groundball pitchers in baseball, he will benefit greatly from the additions of Mueller and Furcal. After adding a couple of pitches to his arsenal a year ago, Seo dominated opponents whenever the Mets let him pitch. Now he’s pitching in one of the most extreme pitcher’s parks in all of baseball. Prediction Preview: This will be the second time in three years that I predict JWS to lead the NL in ERA.
Other 2005 Starters: Odalis Perez, DJ Houlton, Scott Erickson
Other Possible 2006 Starters: Odalis Perez, Brett Tomko, Chad Billingsley
With only one more win than loss for his career, the 28-year old Perez often goes unheralded. But his career Component ERA is 3.59 and his K/BB ratio over the past four seasons is 3.19. Tomko has never reached the initial expectations placed on him, but he’s a dependable innings-eater whose ERA should rest in the low-4’s at Dodger Stadium. Some consider Billingsley the best pitching prospect in the game.
2005 Top Relievers: Yhency Brazoban, Giovanni Carrera, Duaner Sanchez, Elmer Dessens
Projected 2006 Top Relievers: Gagne, Brazoban, Danys Baez, Lance Carter
A healthy Gagne should once again be a top three closer, and the Dodgers actually have three guys with closing experience behind him if he’s not healthy. Baez and Carter should excel moving to Dodger Stadium and going from Tampa’s 26th ranked defense to the Dodgers’, who ranked 8th last year and appear to be vastly improved. Brazoban and Houlton move from go to guys to supporting roles, which they are far better suited for.
The Dodgers are clearly the class of the unimpressive NL West. While there’s no dominant ace in LA, their rotation has depth unparalleled in the National League, and they’ve got a great looking crop of fielders behind them. The lineup is stacked; the biggest question marks they have are at catcher, and in trying to find enough playing time for all of their quality bats. With an unbalanced schedule, LA might very well take advantage of their weak division and approach 100 wins. But they probably only need 85 to make the postseason, and I don’t see them missing that mark.