State of the Franchise: Los Angeles Dodgers

Last Season: 80-82 (4th NL West, missed playoffs)

The Dodgers are in as much turmoil right now as the New York Mets seem to be. The owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through a very ugly, very public divorce that has put the franchise directly in the middle of it. While all that is going on, the team is trying to operate normally from day to day, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult, as funds have became a little bit tighter around Dodgertown.

The off-season saw the retirement of Joe Torre and the announcement that bench coach Don Mattingly would take on Torre’s role of manager. Mattingly has long been Torre’s top assistant, going back to their days together with the New York Yankees. As far as the one-field talent goes, the team brought in some important role plays to place around their young talent, including pitcher Jon Garland, utility infielder Juan Uribe, catcher Rod Barajas, and reliever Matt Guerrier.

The most interesting move, however, was the team’s decision to non-tender catcher Russell Martin. Martin had been the exclusive everyday catcher for the Dodgers since 2006, but battled injuries and slumps all season in 2010. He struggled to a tune of .248 with five home runs and 26 runs batted in. Due to make roughly $5 million in arbitration this upcoming season, the team decided to non-tender Martin instead, exposing him to free agency. Martin elected to sign with the New York Yankees, and the Dodgers will now turn to veteran Rod Barajas to fill the void at the back end of the line-up.

Though losing Martin will look awkward to Dodgers fans at first, there is still some young, up-and-coming talent that fills this roster. The most talented of those players may be right fielder Andre Ethier. Though he battled injuries in the middle of the summer, Ethier gained his first All-Star appearance and posted a line of .292 with 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in. Ethier, who also finished sixth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting after mashing 31 home runs in 2009, will look to add onto those numbers for a full season and help lead this Dodgers line-up.

Lining up alongside Ethier in the outfield is center fielder Matt Kemp. Once the organizations top prospects, Kemp back-tracked somewhat last year. After a huge 2009 campaign when he hit .297 with 26 home runs and 101 runs batted in, plus a Gold Glove award for his defense, Kemp saw his batting average drop to .249. The power numbers were still there, hitting a career-high 28 home runs, but Kemp had to battle media criticism that classified him as a lazy fielder and someone that may have accomplished too much too soon. The Dodgers will need the 2009 version of Matt Kemp if they want to compete with the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants.

The team is also going to need a bounce back year from young first baseman James Loney. Though Loney doesn’t showcase the power of a traditional first baseman, he is one of the top fielding first baseman in the National League and usually hits for a significantly high average, having a career average of .288. Last year, though, Loney’s numbers dropped to a .267 average with 10 home runs, numbers that simply won’t cut it from that position.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, in regards to their everyday line-up, that’s where the youth stops. Shortstop Rafael Furcal posted a .300 average last year, but appeared in only 97 games as he continues to battle injuries year in and year out as he ages. Third baseman Casey Blake, in his first full season in LA, hit only .248 with 17 home runs, and will start this season on the disabled list. The leaves the Dodgers to rely heavily on the likes of utility infielders Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe to fill the void in the absence of Blake and the most likely in-season absence of Furcal.

The team will also start this season fresh without the drama and craziness that is Manny Ramirez in left field. Having traded the slugger to the Chicago White Sox mid-season, the team is hoping former prospect Xavier Paul can step up and provide solid numbers. In limited action last year, Paul hit only .231 with no home runs. The team did sign former New York Yankee outfielder Marcus Thames to add pop to their bench, but many insiders don’t believe Thames is as valuable in an everyday role.

Though the line-up appears shaky on paper, the starting rotation the Dodgers command can compete with that of the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. At the front of that rotation is dynamic 23-year old lefty Clayton Kershaw. A heralded prospect out of high school, Kershaw busted onto the scene in 2008 and came into his own last year. He went 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA, 212 strikeouts in 201 innings and a 1.17 WHIP. At this point in his career, Kershaw is on the cusp of competing each year for the National League Cy Young Award, and should get his first All-Star nod this season with a solid first half.

Serving as the team’s number two starter, Chad Billingsley provides the meat to Kershaw’s lanky craft. A towering figure on the mound at 6’1″ and 245 pounds, Billingsley had a strong 2010 campaign, winning 12 games for a losing team and posting a 3.57 ERA with 171 strikeouts. The Dodgers rewarded Billingsley for his efforts earlier this week with a four-year contract extension that buys out his final year of arbitration and first few years of free agency. The rest of the Dodgers rotation is a good mix of veterans that will compliment the two-headed monster at the top. Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda pitched extremely well last season, sporting a 3.39 ERA, but didn’t get much run support, resulting in only 11 wins. The trade deadline additon of lefty Ted Lily in 2010 will serve a better purpose in 2011, as Lily will look to improve on the seven wins he recorded when he came to the Dodgers. The team will also get a boost when Jon Garland comes off the disabled list, having pitched effectively at the back end of a young San Diego Padres rotation in 2010.

The bullpen has been a point of concern for the Dodgers in recent years. Two-time All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton has looked extremely vulnerable towards the end of the 2010 campaign, and even lost his hold on the full-time closer role at the end of the season. The team has put Broxton back into the full-time job, and will hope that he replicates his numbers from 2009, when he closed out 36 games with a 2.61 ERA. The team absolutely loves lefty specialist Hong-Chi Kuo, but there has been concern in the past of pitching Kuo on back-to-back days because of previous arm troubles. The Dodgers added former Minnesota Twins set-up man Matt Guerrier to help fill the void of getting the ball from the starters to Broxton, and he will be a welcomed addition to a seventh and eighth inning corps that struggled mightily at times in 2010.

Looking at this team as a whole, its hard to see how they could compete with the two dominant teams at the top of the divison, the Rockies and the Giants. They’re not as complete as those two teams are, but that’s not to say there aren’t holes in the Rockies and Giants plans, either. The Dodgers need a lot of things to break correctly for them to regain National League West glory.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this year as the year that happens.

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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