|2008 Los Angeles Dodgers|
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on February 15, 2008
Fourth in the NL West – 8 games back
3B Shea Hillenbrand (free agent)
SP David Wells (free agent)
LF Luis Gonzales (free agent)
SP Randy Wolf (free agent, signed with Padres
SP Mark Hendrickson (free agent)
C Mike Lieberthal (retirement)
New in LA
CJ Andruw Jones (free agent from Atlanta)
SP Hiroki Kuroda (free agent from Japan)
C Gary Bennett (free agent)
The Skinny: The Dodgers stayed relatively quiet this off-season, signing only two players of note. The first was center fielder Andruw Jones, who was inked to a short two year contract, the other was Japanese free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. The big splash was the hiring of Joe Torre as manager. Torre comes with an impressive track record, even though the Yankees were not able to win it all for the last few years despite the sport’s biggest payroll. It remains to be seen if Torre is a good fit for this Dodgers team that relies heavily on young players, something the managers hasn’t been too inclined with his former team.
Strength: The Dodgers have a very balanced team. They neither have a 40 home runs slugger (although Jones once was one) nor a lights out ace, but they have a lineup of six solid hitters (and could make it seven by making Juan Pierre the league’s most expensive pinch runner and eight if Adam LaRoche is ready) and the rotation is also headed by three above average starters (Lowe, Penny and Billingsley). The back end is a bit of a question mark, but does look much better than what others teams are sending out, at least on paper. I’m not a big fan of Esteban Loaiza, but there are worse sixth starters than him (although cheaper ones, too). The bullpen features a dominating closer and a reliable set-up man, too, so if this team stays healthy, they should do fine.
Weaknesses: The team had no player with more than 20 home runs last season, although this should change with Jones now in center and Loney and Kemp holding regular jobs. Their biggest problem will probably be the top of the line-up, because while they have a lot of speed up there in Furcal and Pierre, neither of them is what you call an on-base-machine and therefore will have a hard time making use of their speed as often as they would like.
Still, if everyone stays healthy and bench Pierre, the Dodgers don’t have any glaring weakness.
SS Rafael Furcal
LF Juan Pierre
RF Matt Kemp
2B Jeff Kent
CF Andrew Jones
1B James Looney
C Russel Martin
3B Andy LaRoche
Jason Schmidt (or Esteban Loaiza)
Hong Chi Kuo
Closer Takashi Saito
Keys to success: Go with the Kids. Pierre and Garciaparra are veterans, but they are not the best players at their respective positions. Will Joe Torre act according to that and bench the two big names? Judging by is past, he probably won’t. Even more dangerous, since Pierre’s contract contains a limited no-trade clause, the front office might decide to trade Ethier for some pitching later into a season, which would be a mistake. Other than that, the Dodgers need to stay mostly healthy, because while they have a solid everyday team, it is not the deepest.
Prediction: The AL West is a very competitive division and LA, Colorado, Arizona and San Diego will all compete for the division title and possibly the Wild Card. Only the Giants have no shot at all. In what appears to be a very close race to the finish line, it might come down to consistency and the Dodgers should be a very consistent team if (again) they stay relatively healthy. Anything from 1st to 4th is possible, but if I have to make a pick, I see them finish third because a) Pierre and Garciaparra get too many at bats, b) Jason Schmidt will go down with an injury and Kuroda will fade late into the season.