Playing Pepper 2014: Los Angeles Dodgers

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Los Angeles Dodgers
92-70, first in the NL West, lost in the NLCS

Go big or go home.  That seems to be the current motto of one of the crown jewels of the baseball crown.  Spending money freely (and better than their counterparts that share the LA name), they’ve built a team that looks to be the class of the NL West for a few more seasons, at least.

Can they get over the hump, though?  The Cardinals were able to beat their ace to go to the World Series.  Will others be able to do the same or can Dodger Blue be on the big stage in 2014?

We’ve got a couple of bloggers to talk to you about this team today, both solid BBA members:

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

BH: I would grade the Dodgers offseason as a solid B, and frankly that’s just fine with me. They didn’t go out and sign or trade for any significant pieces, but they did shore up an already very good core. I think the highlight of the Winter was the new contract for Clayton Kershaw. He just might be the best pitcher of this generation, and it’s exciting to know that he’ll be wearing Blue for several more years. Getting a solid bottom of the rotation guy like Dan Haren also puts any fear I had about the #4 spot at ease. Re-upping Juan Uribe was a must considering the lack of 3rd base depth for the team. We also added some relief arms (Chris Perez, Jamey Wright and Paul Maholm– a possible #5 starter), but I was less than enthusiastic about them. I remain cautiously optimistic they will be of help. I loved the re-signing of Brian Wilson and JP Howell. Our biggest question mark is at 2nd base, and I haven’t a clue who’ll play there for us.

LL: I would grade the Dodger offseason with a B+. I wouldn’t say it was perfect, but it was very good. The Dodgers were quite busy and did a great job of retaining most of their talent, while also adding to the roster. Of course the extension of ace Clayton Kershaw was the most important signing. His extension was imperative to the success of the club. The Dodgers also retained portly lovable third baseman Juan Uribe on a modest two year deal.

The club retained relievers J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson, and added veterans Chris Perez, and Jamey Wright. (Wright returns to the Dodgers for his second stint) The Dodgers also signed a couple of more Cuban born players. Infielder Alexander Guerrero will be switching from shortstop to second base, and newly signed shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena was also brought into the mix. Guggenheim isn’t afraid to spend money to improve the roster, and it’s a wonderful refreshing change for Dodger fans.

C70: Will Yasiel Puig be able to avoid the sophomore jinx?

BH: I think Puig will regress just a bit, but will still be very effective. There have been reports that he’ll be tested out as a leadoff guy, and I’m hopeful that’ll work out. The toughest barrier he faces is dealing with unrealistic expectations. If he comes out of the gate slowly, then we’ll get a good look at his mettle.

LL: I think he will, and can, as long as he is making the necessary adjustments. The league somewhat started to adjust to him last September which is why he hit only .214 in that month. They started to either bust him inside, or get him on the outside corner. So Puig is going to have to make some adjustments. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and the good players know how to make those on the fly when they need to. Sometimes younger players have issues with this. But I think Puig’s talent will win out, and he should be fine. As long as he is making those adjustments, he won’t see any kind of extended slump. By the way, I am still surprised at how far off the plate he stands. Maybe that’s his next adjustment?

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

BH: The 2nd base position it the biggest Spring roster battle. The Dodgers signed Alexander Guerrero (a recent Cuban escapee), but it remains questionable whether he can immediately step into that position without some time in the minors first. Beyond that, there are numerous players vying for the spot; including Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Miguel Rojas, Justin Turner, etc.

LL: There are two battles that will be interesting to watch. One is the battle for the fifth starter spot. The Dodgers were unsure of Josh Beckett’s health after coming off of surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, so they signed left hander Paul Maholm to a one-year 1.5 million dollar base salary. They also have young right hander Stephen Fife who should be in the mix as well. Reports indicate that Beckett is healthy, and ready to contribute, but Maholm has a sore arm. The battle should be primarily between Beckett, Maholm, and Fife for the number five spot. You also can’t count out other rookies like super prospect Zach Lee, and rule V draftee Seth Rosin who impressed the other day with a five whiff performance against the Snakes. Let’s also not forget Chad Billingsley will be returning from Tommy John surgery at some point, in which case, the Dodgers will have to make a tough decision.-The other battle that should be interesting is the battle for the bench between utility players Chine Figgins, Dee Gordon, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas, and Brendan Harris. All of those guys might see some time at second base as well if Cuban all-star Alexander Guerrero isn’t ready for some reason. However, I have 100% confidence in Guerrero’s abilities, so those guys should just all be fighting for bench spots.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

BH: This is a tough one. There appears to be very little room on the roster for a rookie. Are Dee Gordon and Matt Magill still considered rookies? If Miguel Rojas makes the roster he could greatly impact the teams fortunes. He’s a slick fielding infielder than some in the organization like to compare to Omar Vizquel. That’s probably wishful thinking. Zach Lee could come in as a #5 starter and finally shows he’s ready for the big leagues. Carlos Frias could be that surprise rookie reliever that comes out of nowhere to throw some big innings.

LL: This is a difficult question to answer. Technically speaking, Guerrero is a rookie, so it would probably be him. But he’s not really a rookie (I don’t consider him a rookie) since he’s had years of playing experience in Cuba, and is 26 years old. Besides Guerrero, newly signed Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena (yes they signed another Cuban) could make an impact from a bench position, if he’s able to get into the country. We’ve heard he’s having some issues with his visa. Otherwise, there aren’t many pure rookies on the roster that will be making much of an impact. It’s unlikely Zach Lee makes the squad. So if I had to choose someone else, it might be rookie outfielder Joc Pederson. Pederson is a toolsy prospect who plays terrific defense, and has a potent bat. With all of the injuries, it is possible he could make the roster, especially with the uncertain health of Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford. But also watch for second year flame-thrower Chris Withrow to have more responsibility.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

BH: I think the Dodgers can win 95 games, and that’s not just because I’m a homer. They have the starting pitching and the bats to win the division. Health, as always, will be a huge factor. Already, there are reports of shoulder inflammation in Puig’s throwing shoulder that hopefully is not a signal of more to come.

LL: Tough to predict what their exact record will be, but I think they’ll definitely win the division. The Dodgers have such a talented roster, and if the club stays healthy–health is the key–they should win the division with anywhere between 90-95 wins.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

BH: On a daily basis there is no denying the magnetism of Puig. He’s just exciting to watch play – no matter what you think of him. Somehow, he finds himself a big factor in every game he plays. On every fifth day, there is nothing like watching Clayton Kershaw pitch.

LL: This is a tough one. Of course what Dodger fan doesn’t love watching Clayton Kershaw’s complete and utter domination over all opponents? Hanley Ramirez is dripping with talent from every pore. But if there is one player I have to choose, it would have to be Kenley Jansen. The island born power closer is a joy to watch. Especially after going from such save blowing bums as Jonathan Broxton and Brandon League. Jansen’s powerful cutter, and game ending gagne like skills is a joy to watch. It’s nice not to have to worry about who’s going to close, or watch the ninth inning with our hands over our eyes and on our knees praying for the third out. Kenley is one of the most underrated closers in the game.

My thanks to Ernest and Scott for their thoughts on the team in blue.  Could we see another matchup between these two teams in the postseason?  It’s a strong possibility!

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