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MLB preview 2017: Dodgers have sky-high expectations, and for good reason

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True Blue LA’s Eric Stephen previews the reigning NL West champs, who are favorites to win the division again this year.

With the 2017 season just around the corner, it’s time to catch up what the other teams around the division. Instead of trying to figure out what we need to know about them ourselves, we thought it would be a good idea to ask our friends at our neighbors here at SBNation to help acquaint us with the teams in the division.

We asked Eric Stephen, manager of True Blue LA, to answer a few questions for us about the upcoming Los Angeles Dodgers season. You’ll find his answers below.

What went right for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016? What, ultimately, went wrong?

What went right was Clayton Kershaw at his absolute best, but what went wrong was him missing 10 weeks with a herniated disc in his back. He was one of a record 28 different Dodgers placed on the disabled list, which was pretty ridiculous.

What went right was Corey Seager having a ridiculous rookie season and establishing himself as one of the best players in the game already at 22. He was one of a quartet of players who carried the offense. Yasmani Grandal led all catchers in homers and walks. Justin Turner overcame a slow start to dominate the final four months, and Joc Pederson after an up-and-down rookie season was fairly consistent in year two to put together a solid year.

With Kershaw out, the Dodgers scrambled in the starting staff, and barely averaged five innings a start for a long chunk of the year. But the bullpen saved the day despite a ridiculous workload. They set a major league record for relief appearances and led baseball in relief innings, and were at or near the top in several categories (ERA, strikeouts, strikeout rate).

For being the richest team in baseball, the Dodgers haven’t really thrown their financial weight around as much as we might expect. Last year they didn’t give Zack Greinke a small island and he went to Arizona. This offseason all the major signings were in the form of the Dodgers locking up their own free agent players. What do you think the long game is with the Dodgers and their resources?

The current regime and ownership group has tried to balance contending while also rebuilding a player development system that will, in a perfect world, become self-sustaining over the long haul. The farm has started to bear fruit recently, with Pederson coming up in 2015, and Seager and Urias making an impact last year. Cody Bellinger is knocking on the door now. They also got contributions from Brock Stewart and Jose De Leon, and were able to flip De Leon to Tampa Bay for Logan Forsythe.

I think within a few years, the Dodgers will still have a huge payroll but will try to avoid the luxury tax, relying more on impact from young players to supplement the majors.

What were the most important moves of the offseason?

I didn’t think they would be able to sign all three of Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, so that was a surprise, but I’ll go here with getting Logan Forsythe to play second base.

I was pretty well on board the Brian Dozier train, and the Dodgers certainly tried to pry him from Minnesota, but they two sides couldn’t agree on the other pieces headed to Minnesota with De Leon. With Tampa Bay, it was De Leon straight up for Forsythe, who helps fill a big need.

The Dodgers were dead last in just about every offensive category against left-handed pitching in 2016. Some of that was fluky; they have several players who normally hit lefties well, so some of that turnaround should be natural. But Forsythe gives them a second baseman with pop—37 home runs, 57 doubles the last two years—and someone who hits lefties well (.287/.350/543 in 2015-2016).

Of those contracts handed out, which do you think was the best and which do you wish they would have reconsidered? Are any of them noticeably more risky than the others?

I have trouble deciding which of Jansen or Turner was best. Jansen was irreplaceable; even if he was overpaid, there was nobody else close to him so they would have been hurting had he left. But Turner has been crazy productive the last 3-4 years and they probably got a bargain with him at $64 million.

I absolutely love watching Rich Hill pitch, and over the last two years he has been simply great when he is on the mound. I think he is a great addition to the staff, but there is also a lot of risk guaranteeing $48 million to a 37-year-old with 610 career innings.

In a matchup between Clayton Kershaw and the field, who do you pick to win the 2017 NL Cy Young?

This is such a homer pick, but I have to go Kershaw here, if only because I think he’ll make 30-plus starts, and he’s been on such a good run recently.

Who are some unheralded players we should keep an eye on this season? Prospects, role players, free-agent signees, etc.

Grant Dayton, a reliever who made his major league debut at 28 last year, probably fits here. He’s a big left-hander with a great curve and is a high-spin-rate guy. He had a 2.05 ERA and 2.96 FIP in 25 major league games, and combining the majors and minors last year struck out 130 with only 17 walks in 78 ⅓ innings.

Andrew Toles is another one to watch. He was out of baseball in 2015, and started 2016 in Class-A, but ended up on the better half of a platoon in left field during the playoffs. With Andre Ethier dealing with back problems to start the season, Toles will get an extended run again in 2017.

Expectations are pretty high this year, especially considering a PECOTA projection of 97 wins. Does this look like the best team in baseball to you?

I will admit to bristling when I saw those projections, more because they were so much relatively better than the Cubs. I do think Chicago is the best team in baseball, but I don’t think the Dodgers are that far off. I do have high expectations for this team, and it does feel like a 95- or 96-win team.

What do you think is a realistic best case scenario for the Dodgers this year? What’s the worst case scenario? What would a successful season look like for the team?

The best-case scenario for the Dodgers is winning the World Series, which I think is in their grasp. I hesitate to say World Series or bust, but it almost feels that way. I think if they got to the World Series that is a very successful year, but it would be hard to also denigrate another NLCS appearance even if that’s where they end.