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Scouting the Dodgers' offseason and Spring Training battles

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With full rosters reporting to Spring Training, I figured I probably out to finally get my butt on the proverbial playing field again.  Today, I'll run through all the personnel comings and goings of the back-to-back NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.


In With the New, Out With the Old

Los Angeles is the second largest TV market in the United States, making up nearly 5% of the United States.  Contrary to the benefits that figure to come from that, Ned Colletti worked this season as if he were operating the Florida Marlins.  

Zero Dodgers were offered arbitration.  The most any player will be paid in 2010 of those earning a new contract or extension (non-arbitration-forced) is Vicente Padilla, at $4.05million.  That's barely half what Huston Street will make this season, and Padilla's salary would cover Jamie McCourt's expenses for her eight houses only until the last day of the regular season.

Therein lies the rub.  Whether the organization wants to admit it or not, the McCourt's divorce has severely hamstrung the team's assets.  It's awfully difficult to make positive change in the offseason if you have no change to throw at anyone.  Here's a quick run-down of notable players leaving the predominant 25-man roster and those who were brought in (2010 WAR projections from CHONE): 

         Player 2009 WAR         Player 2010 WAR
Orlando Hudson        2.0 Jamey Carroll       1.3
Mark Loretta       -0.1 Alfredo Amezaga       0.8
Juan Castro        0.0 Brian Giles       0.3
Juan Pierre        2.1 Reed Johnson       0.4
Randy Wolf        3.0 Vicente Padilla       1.8
Guillermo Mota       -0.1

Assuming instrinsic progression negates regression precisely, the Dodgers downgraded a little more than three wins in this cursory overly-simplistic glance.  After winning the division by three games.  And there's certainly a case to be made that the Dodgers will experience more regression in 2010 than progression, or that projected playing time for the bench is unrealistic.  Okay, so I admit there will also be far more moving parts and increased roles for internal players, but that would be no fun to look at. 



In large part, Ned Colletti kept his division champion roster intact.  The spring is the time to battle for position on the roster for the upcoming season, but these fifteen players can take it easy and know they will return to the same role they had last season:

Rotation:  Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda

Bullpen:  Jonathan Broxton, Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo, George Sherrill

Infield:  James Loney, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Russell Martin

Outfield:  Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

Bench:  Brad Ausmus

Additionally, recently signed Reed Johnson will the the fourth outfielder and Vicente Padilla will rejoin the rotation that he made seven starts in last year.  Provided his leg heals from a shotgun wound.


After the jump, I'll go a little into the Spring Training battles.

Spring Battles

Two positions-in-question are of chief interest at Camelback Ranch this spring - second base and fifth starter.  

Second Base:  Ned Colletti declined to offer arbitration to Orlando Hudson, forfeiting potential compensatory draft picks along with one of his hottest hitters out of the gate in 2009.  Ronnie Belliard, Jamey Carroll, Nick Green and Alfredo Amezega all received (dirt cheap) contracts this offseason, though none are clear favorites for the starting position.

Blake DeWitt

#33 / Third Base / Los Angeles Dodgers





Aug 20, 1985

It seems to me the FO might be secretly rooting for Belliard to remain above 209 pounds so they can void his contract, thereby allowing the internal eternal prospect Blake DeWitt to win the starting job.  After that, Carroll could fill in as the utility infielder.  If Belliard stops mistaking Slim Jims for Slim Fast and wins the job, DeWitt will head back to AAA for yet again, more seasoning.  Carroll has an outside chance at the starting role, while Green and Amezaga would need injuries to those ahead of them, and probably more.


Fifth Starter:  Eric Stults started ten games in 2009, more than any other candidate Joe Torre has to fill out his rotation.  As with any fifth starter battle, one must pay attention to candidates without options.  Both Stults and kunckleballer Charlie Haeger are out of options. 

Eric Stults

#50 / Pitcher / Los Angeles Dodgers





Dec 09, 1979

Scott Elbert has the potential to be a strong fifth starter, as does James McDonald.  Josh Lindblom and Jeff Weaver are not candidates, according to Joe Torre, but Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios, Russ Ortiz, Ramon Ortiz and Josh Towers have a "legitimate chance."  I can't see Haeger getting the nod over a lefty with more upside and experience in Stults, and the knuckler probably doesn't have much trade value, so he will probably be pushed through waivers.  Lindblom and Monasterios probably find themselves in AAA; at least one of McDonald, Elbert and Weaver will be the bullpen, and all those remaining will be on call as the potential sixth starter.  My guess is Stults wins the role, given his experience, talent and lack of options.


After the two above slots are filled, the rest of the roster can fill in:


Bench:  Reed Johnson is cemented in as Juan Pierre's replacement and the team's fourth starter.  NRI Doug Mientkiewicz figured to be the lone left-handed bench player, but the signing of Brian Giles puts M-alphabet's roster spot in question.  

Brian Giles

#0 / Right Field / Los Angeles Dodgers





Jan 20, 1971

From my conversations with TrueBlueLA's Phil Gurnee, both Giles and Mientkiewicz are gimps, and whoever is most healthy will likely get the LH pinch-hitting job, with little to no starts expected.  Jamey Carroll will likely be on the bench as a utility infielder, with other bench buddy option depending on whether Belliard or DeWitt is the starter.

  • If DeWitt wins the starting role, Belliard will be on the bench with Jamey Carroll as Furcal's lone insurance at short.  
  • If Belliard is starting, Nick Green, Alfredo Amezaga or Chin-Lung Hu would get the final bench shot. Apparently TBLA is rooting for Amezaga.  

Brad Ausmus pushes A.J Ellis out of the backup catcher role, meaning LA will have the same backup catcher for consecutive seasons for the first time in eight years.


Bullpen:  I see two and a half positions open in the bullpen.   The "half" position is Ronald Belisario's job.  The sophomore had a phenomenal rookie season, posting a 2.04 ERA and 3.51 FIP in almost 71 IP 2009.  However, after having visa issues in Venezuela and missing the start of Spring Training for the second straight year, GM Ned Colletti proclaimed Belisario's job up for grabs.

"At this point in his life, [Belisario] needs to worry about it more than we do," said Colletti. "We've got a lot of people here who can pitch."

Ronald Belisario

#54 / Pitcher / Los Angeles Dodgers





Dec 31, 1982

It might be for the best, after he, Troncoso and Broxton combined for north of 200 games last season.  If Colletti softens at all and the right-hander gets to camp with a visa, Belisario will get the job.  If not, Cory Wade is a decent bet to take his spot.   Elbert, Weaver, McDonald, Lindblom and Stults could fill in two bullpen jobs, with Phil Gurnee projecting Weaver and McDonald to be the winners.


Four parting thoughts

  • Joe Torre really leaned on Broxton, Belisario and Troncoso last year.  Over 80% of Troncoso and Belisario's career MLB innings came in 2009.  Their resiliency and ability to match last year's production has to be seriously in question.  If either falters, which is likely, can Hong-Chi Kuo and/or George Sherrill pick up the slack?
  • Joe Torre also tends to underplay his bench.  His top four bench players combined for 857 PA's in 2009, compared to 1341 for the top four Rockies.  Keep that in mind when projecting the bench players.
  • Russell Martin has gained 20 pounds over the offseason in an attempt to put up with his workload.  It may help prevent the inevitable sapping of his power.
  • Manny Ramirez said this season would be his last in Los Angeles.  The next day, he said:
"I'll play three more (years) for this team and two more in Japan.  Put that in there.  I want to see myself on ESPN again."