Spring training: What's the point?

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
1:40
PM PT
A month before pitchers and catchers report, probably the biggest questions to sort out at Dodgers spring camp, roughly in this order, are: Matt Kemp's health, Carl Crawford's health, Clayton Kershaw's health, Chad Billingsley's health, Ted Lilly's health, Scott Elbert's health, Matt Guerrier's health and Jerry Hairston Jr.'s health. Have we missed anybody?

Trainer Sue Falsone might have more interesting media sessions than manager Don Mattingly.

The Dodgers have practically -- exactly? -- nothing to sort out this spring, presuming all -- or even most -- of the above-mentioned players get well by Opening Day. Yeah, they'll probably trade a starting pitcher, maybe two. They may land a veteran backup catcher.

There are always performance questions. Can Adrian Gonzalez regain his power? Can Hanley Ramirez play adequate shortstop? But those questions typically aren't answered until April or May, at the earliest. Players who win the Cactus League batting title rarely win the National League batting title.

The point is, few players will be feeling much anxiety about making the team. You typically see spring competition for back-end rotation spots, bullpen spots and reserve infielders and outfielder spots. The Dodgers might not have anything to settle in any of those areas.

They have six veteran relievers in Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, Elbert and Guerrier. In the unlikely event they carry seven relievers, there's a good shot they'll need one spot to stash Lilly or one of the other starters. They have four bench players who are practically locks to be with the team on Opening Day: Hairston, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Tim Federowicz.

Add their nine starting position players and five starting pitchers and you've got 25 players. The rules won't let you keep any more, at least until Sept. 1. That could make the spring training news wire one injury update after the next. You'd rather have it that way than how things were at this time last year, with vacancies in the rotation, the outfield and the corners of the infield.

No wonder general manager Ned Colletti told reporters in Arizona this week that, if his team gets to Glendale, Ariz., with exactly this roster, "we're in a good spot." Apparently, spending $226 million on players buys you a certain degree of certainty.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
16 1.73 194 161
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .301
HRA. Gonzalez 18
RBIA. Gonzalez 90
RD. Gordon 73
OPSY. Puig .882
ERAC. Kershaw 1.73
SOC. Kershaw 194